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Employee Engagement: Still Low

Gallup’s latest study on employee engagement revealed the awful truth that only about 3 in 10 American workers are truly engaged in their work and workplace. Following the havoc of the pandemic, leaders are struggling to inspire team members to take initiative, commit to their company’s success, and be more productive.

The long-running survey on engagement has shown that employees are engaged when their deeper needs to feel valued, grow and develop, maximize their strengths and make a meaningful contribution are fulfilled.  

The results of Gallop’s studies point to three specific things employees need to feel good about their jobs and be fully engaged. Here are some suggestions communications teams can use to make these three elements work for your company:

  1. Employees want a leader and a company who care about them and their development– When you truly believe employees are the company’s most valuable asset, it shines through in the frequency and manner with which you communicate with them. Let them know specifically how the company is working hard to ensure their success. Share information about important changes and initiatives as freely as possible to show employee how their contributions matter to overall business success.
  2. They’re looking for a role that matches their strengths– Every job presents interpersonal and character growth opportunities. Help employees see what mountains they can successfully climb right now and show how they can gain skills and experience on their career journey.
  3. They want to know that their contributions matter– Chances are, your employees believe—or once believed—in your company’s mission and values—what you contribute to the world at large. Keep this purpose at the core of your communications. Be sure you regularly articulate the relationship of the work employees do every day to your mission.

What’s the connection between all of these elements?  Proactive, inspiring, and consistent internal communications. It’s the most productive way to get everyone focused on priorities and engaged in their work.

Communications That Help Employees with Return-to-Office Anxiety

While your office may reopen soon, the pandemic is not over for many employees. Return-to- office communications should help employees feel safe, seen and supported.  Their needs have shifted during the long work from home period.  That’s why effective communications can go a long way to build trust and let them know their health and well-being is important to you. 

Whether you’re moving to a hybrid work arrangement or expect employees back at their workstations in-house, the way you communicate will impact employee engagement. We’re counseling our clients to focus on the Big Three for re-entry communications:  safety, well-being, leadership.

Make your commitment to safety visible

Employees can’t perform if they don’t feel safe. Be clear about steps undertaken to maintain a safe in-office experience, including the deep cleaning of the facility, protective equipment availability, or health checks.  Are masks required? What changes are coming to the break rooms? Set up an online Coronavirus Info Hub where employees can get information, news or policy changes. Being specific about this is more important than ever before. 

Prioritize well-being

Many companies are broadening their wellness programs to focus on mental health maintenance and self-care. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), often an under-utilized resource, are being more urgently promoted within benefits communications.  Consider providing access to guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm.   Mental health apps, like Sanvelo and Moodfit, provide support for stress, anxiety and other issues.

Train and support front-line leaders

Train your managers and front-line supervisors with a comprehensive workplace re-entry plan. Ensure they understand any key changes in policy as well as safety protocols. Equip them to support team members with empathy.  Supply guidance on regular check ins as well as fun activities like safe team bonding experiences, virtual happy hours and curated playlists.  And don’t forget to praise good work and say thank you to managers.  This group has been through a lot too.

Looking Ahead: Communicating in a Hybrid Workplace

One of the key takeaways of the past 16-months is that work from home is no longer a perk, but rather the future for many businesses. The hybrid workplace, where employees are co-located and have the ability to work remotely, is a hot topic, particularly with employees. A recent survey from SHRM revealed that 52% of respondents would like to continue to work remotely forever while 35% would accept a pay cut to work from home.

The shift to hybrid working means that companies have the opportunity to reset the workplace culture in many ways.  But the tenets of pre-pandemic employee engagement have not changed. Communication continues to be the key to ensuring alignment and building company culture. Here are four recommendations we’re making to clients.

Conduct a health check for online collaboration tools

When the pandemic hit, businesses moved quickly to stand up collaboration tools that would keep employees connected and working productively.  As hybrid workplaces evolve towards permanency, now is the time to assess how these tools are working and if remote workers have the right support and infrastructure for the long haul. If you don’t know how well they are working, survey employees now.

Create consistent person-to-person connections

Whether through group or individual online sessions, every remote employee should have a regular touchpoint with his/her manager.  This ensures understanding of expectations and opportunities for feedback. Engagement lags when employees think their manager does not know, or care, what they do.  Consistent interaction helps to build pride and performance.

Reimagine employee onboarding

The first 90 days in a new role is a pivotal time that can set up an employee for success or failure. Learning a new role while working remotely can feel isolating.  Put practices in place to ensure the new employee understands the role, who to go to for support, and where to learn about the mission and culture of your workplace.  Show your team personality with online Welcome party or a Hi There kit with company swag.  Most importantly, give the new hire something to do and help prepare them to contribute.

Make recognition visible

The days of bringing everyone together for cake to celebrate a win or a milestone may be gone, but don’t skimp on saying thank you. Research indicates that when employees feel recognized and valued, they tend to be more satisfied, are more productive, and are more likely to engage with the rest of the team. Reevaluate your company recognition program with a lens on remote workers so that everyone knows their contributions are celebrated.

Sixty Seconds of Leadership Inspiration

During graduation season, you can count on speakers, the profound and the superficial (I’m looking at you reality show celebs), to make a connection. Their goal is to inspire others to reflect or take action or celebrate.

As leaders and communicators, we’re also looking for a spark to lift and embolden us in our work. Here are some of our favorite quotes. Take a break from Zoom call fatigue and use them to jumpstart your storytelling and communications.

 “Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.”

Seth Godin

“I believe in the power of storytelling because stories open our hearts to a new place, which opens our minds, which often leads to action.”

Melinda Gates

“Be unafraid to be completely you, and accept all those other individuals you meet as they are.”

Alicia Keys

“Before dreaming about the future or making plans, you need to articulate what you already have going for you—as entrepreneurs do.”

Reid Hoffman

 “Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”

Malcolm Gladwell

“Failure is not something to be ashamed of; it’s something to be powered by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You got to learn to make failure your fuel.”

 –Abby Wambach

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Warren Buffett

As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”

Toni Morrison

Four Ways to Write Actionable Content

While the best practices for business writing have changed over time, the need for clear, communications is as important as ever. If you dread the thought of writing anything from a blog to a business letter, use these four tips as guide to more effective writing.

1. Use the simplest language possible

  • Leave out unnecessary words.
  • When common, ordinary words will do the job, don’t use fancy ones. That includes high dollar words, foreign words, and jargon.
  • When possible, keep sentences and paragraphs short.

2. Write vigorously

  • Use active instead of passive voice when possible.
  • Choose powerful verbs over weak ones like forms of “to be.”

3. Be positive, not negative

  • It’s more effective to say what something is instead of what it is not. For example, use “The procedure will be relatively comfortable,” instead of “The procedure will be pain-free.” Your audience will unconsciously focus on the word “pain” and the rest will lose power.

4. Put the audience at the center of your plan

  • Know your audience, your purpose, and the value of your message before you create the key points.
  • Revise and simplify

Fortunately, most of us aren’t required to write even one page of a masterpiece, but the writing we do is no less important. Effective writing can impact employee morale and the bottom line. But you’ve got to get your readers all the way through the message first in order to educate, inform or inspire.

Back to the Office or WFH? Employee Preferences Vary

At the start of the pandemic, businesses without flex work arrangements were pushed into the deep end.  Those companies that already leveraged online collaboration tools were better prepared.  Now, as we close in on one-quarter of the adult population vaccinated, businesses are preparing for the new normal.  For many of us that means returning to an office environment for the first time in many months.

WFH isn’t for everyone

A new Fortune/SurveyMonkey study of office workers shows that remote work will no longer be viewed as perk. But not everyone wants to work from home. Among the findings is that twice as many respondents prefer to be in the office than to work from home once the pandemic is over.

  • 36% of respondents say they prefer to be always in the office
  • 18% of respondents prefer to always work remotely
  • 42% of respondents prefer a hybrid model with some in office/some remote work

These findings suggest that the future of flexible work arrangements will be a priority communication. Employees need to feel safe and appreciated. Leaders will need to make the case that culture and connection is continually evolving.  There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s well worth the time to examine and update corporate policies and the employee handbook now.

Involve employees and communicate

As you push reset on flexible work arrangements, be sure to involve employees. Surveys and online focus groups are effective tools to gather input as you finalize the business strategy.

And remember—if you ask for feedback from employees you must always thank them for the feedback and let them how their input helped to shape decisions.

Celebrating Black History Month at Work

February is Black History Month, a time to reflect, celebrate and learn about the heritage and significant contributions of Black Americans. Although many businesses are operating in work from home settings, there are many ways to engage employees in programming and spark meaningful conversations about racial justice that extend well past February.

Educate and spark dialog. Host a conversation series with guest speakers on topics such as Black culture, trailblazers and social justice. Encourage all employees to live your corporate values by educating themselves on racial injustice. Invite Black leaders within your company to share their career stories and talk about leadership development.

Connect and engage. Establish Employee Resource Groups, employee-led organizations focused on fostering an inclusive workplace and aligning with business objectives. ERGs are a powerful tool in employee retention, engagement, and development of future leaders.

Involve employees in brand and internal storytelling.  Do your communication channels, recruiting and marketing materials look as diverse as your employee population?  Employees are the most credible brand ambassadors, both internally and externally.  Create new ways to showcase your employees and their stories.

Start a Leadership Book Club. Use the Lean In model as a template for a Company Book Club. Select at book, and create a company-wide reading event culminating with a moderated discussion with a company leader. Looking for inspiration?  Here are some amazing books:

  • How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
  • “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
  • “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso

The NAACP offers guidelines on what brands can do for Black History Month .  This includes focused recruiting efforts of diverse leaders, supporting diversity and inclusion programs within your business and engaging with local social justice organizations.

How to Prep for Your Media Interview

You’ve been called by the press for an interview.  You’re a subject matter specialist and the thought of a mistake unnerves you.  How can you deliver a result that makes you proud?

There’s always an advantage to getting your message out through the press. Preparation is the key to any successful interview.  Use these secrets from public relations pros to help you achieve the results you seek.

  1. Stay focused on your message. Rough out some bullets before you return a call.  What is the main point you want to address? Prepare for anything that may be negative or controversial.
  2. Be concise.  Use plain language. Reporters will purposely pause to get you to say more, so don’t just talk to fill space. Don’t make “off the record” comments or saying “no comment.”
  3. Be memorable.  Use statistics, comparisons, examples and anecdotes to make your points.
  4. Correct misstatements.  The reporter will not know the information as well as you.  If they make a misstatement, correct it quickly.  Do not repeat an inaccuracy but clarify and accentuate the positive.
  5. Remember that you are in control.  Just because a question is asked, you’re not required to give an answer.  If it’s something you can’t or don’t want to discuss, change the conversation.  If you don’t know the answer, say so.  Ask the interviewer if you can get back to them later with accurate information.

Happy Birthday to us!

In May, our little company reached a noteworthy milestone: 20 years in business. Since 65% of new businesses fail in the first ten years, we were feeling kind of proud.

We had plans for a year of celebration including an anniversary page on our website and a memorable get together with the clients, partners and friends who had helped build our business along the way. And then Covid altered our plans. Considerably.

Just like any business story, ours was shaped by successes and failures, marked by amazing good luck and work-to-exhaustion cycles.  We met the most remarkable people and learned so much from clients and partners.  It’s been an honor to earn their trust as we’ve partnered to create engaging communications and build performance.

So instead of a socially-distanced slice of cake and a glass of wine, we’re sharing three principles we’ve adopted in our first 20 years.  They apply to building to building a business or navigating your career. Thank you to everyone who’s taught us these lessons along the way.

1. Get prepared to be lucky.

Business success is sometimes equal parts of hard work and good luck.  But luck is not sustainable.  You have to be prepared. That means identifying gaps, finding partners who can do what you can’t do, and having the emotional intelligence to lead others. Do the work of being prepared.

2. Follow the strategy and be accountable.

A goal without a plan is a wish. As a new business, our goal was to stay in business. We became more sophisticated over time. Part of that is not being in love with your own ideas, focusing relentlessly on delivering the strategy, and making adjustments. When you write down an aspirational business plan, don’t put it in the drawer.  Review it, update it, and hold yourself accountable for results.

3. Find a fan.  Be a fan.

No matter what you role, everyone needs a fan.  Everyone needs someone to believe in them, to cheer them on, to drop a positive word of encouragement when things seem bleak.  Find that person for you and be that person for someone else.

How to keep your remote employees engaged

Over the past decade, technology has facilitated a major shift in how we do business.  Many workers have moved from office settings to remote working.  In 2020 this shift accelerated even more rapidly due to COVID-19 and the need to adopt social distancing for the health and safety of employees and their families.  Companies are adapting on the fly in the ways they communicate and conduct day-to-day operations.  While this shift has helped businesses stay productive, the sudden change has left some employees feeling less engaged. 

Managers are suddenly faced with the question, “How do we support our employees who are now forced to work remotely?”  Sudden changes like this can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan in place.  In order to make sure you are doing all you can to support your remote employees here are a few internal communications best practices to keep them engaged:

Keep in Contact

This seems simple but it’s easy to miss the mark.  Make sure your employees feel supported and connected to their peers and managers.  Host virtual team meeting and check-ins multiple times a month. Keeping employees in the loop about the company’s big picture and their role in it helps them feel valued and included, promotes a healthy attitude toward otherwise stressful changes, and ensures everyone is aligned and headed in the right direction.

Celebrate your Employees

People want to feel that they are valued.  Introduce an employee recognition program to celebrate when your team members go above and beyond.  Everyone appreciates a pat on the back for a job well done.  Also small things like calling out work anniversaries and birthdays will make your employees feel appreciated and let them know that you’re thinking about them.

Ramp up Training

Give your employees the tools to be successful.  Employee training in any business is an investment, not an expense.  When employees are well trained, they perform with skill and confidence.  Make sure your employees feel prepared to work remotely and promote continued growth and development.  Implementing training programs for video conferencing, webinars, and any new programs will help employees feel assured.     

Need more ideas on keeping employees engaged? Get in touch: ben.clayton@insight-communication.com