It’s hard to imagine a time when employee engagement has been as important as it is right now as we emerge from the global pandemic. As organisations begin reopening their offices, employees need to feel safe returning to work. The pandemic may be shifting from a public health crisis to an economic crisis, and while individuals will likely continue to fear for their health, fear for their job security is also wreaking havoc with employees’ wellbeing.

As businesses start to move through recovery, they will need their employees to feel enabled and engaged, not fearful and stressed. Leaders need to activate a new wave of listening and responding to their employees in this crucial phase. But what mattered before matters differently now. Listening programs need to be flexed, adjusted, and refocused so that leaders can determine how their people are responding to the return to work, while capturing the cultural shifts and emerging benefits that will stoke a successful recovery.

Listening differently

When the pandemic first emerged, organisations were forced to adapt with incredible speed. Almost overnight whole workforces went remote and into the void that was left by the physical workspace, leaders became more present and accessible, albeit virtually.

They were forced to make decisions and act without perfect information and to be more transparent and authentic in their communications with their people. These shifts created new connections between organisations, leaders and employees.

Now, things are changing again. It’s not a ‘return to normal’. There are now new challenges and new opportunities. For businesses to reap benefits from the transformation they have just been through, they’ll need to identify what successes to preserve and where to support more change. What is the right intensity of change? What are the strengths uncovered through the crisis? What is needed for ‘the new normal’ to work?

There’s now a golden opportunity for organisations to capture and build on what they’ve learned through the pandemic, by preserving and reinforcing what has worked well and identifying any gaps that need to be addressed. To do that, organisations need to evolve their employee listening and employee experience strategies. Rather than focusing on short-term, crisis management actions, they need to take a long-term view on the improvement they can gain from ongoing employee feedback. They also have to start asking the right questions to generate new insights in this new normal.

Core questions to ask post-COVID

We recommend that organisations ask their employees for feedback on three core areas: cultural shifts, emerging benefits, safety and wellbeing.

Cultural shifts

With such sudden and extreme shifts in the external environment brought by the pandemic, all organisations will have also experienced cultural shifts. The question is: where are they happening and what do you most want to carry forward? Questions probing how employees have experienced new ways of working and the behaviour of their leaders will help draw out the nature of those shifts, as well as what’s working and what’s not.

Emerging benefits

So much of the pandemic has been experienced in a negative way, as people feel suffocated by isolation and fear, alongside the real or threatened effects of the illness itself. But there are also good things that have emerged, that go well beyond sourdough baking skills. Organisations should be looking and listening for these benefits and leveraging them for the recovery. Some of these benefits can include things like increased collaboration that emerged from access to digital tools or more productivity given that many employees are no longer having to commute to the office.

Safety and wellbeing

The continued safety and wellbeing of your employees must continue to be first priority. This relies on your people maintaining confidence in the safety measures put in place by the organisation. Leaders will need to listen and act on how their people experience the return to work or remain working from home, including how they are continuing to manage their work and family commitments.

COVID-19 has shown the importance of listening and responding to employees and has brought about new and different ways of doing so. The best organisations will be listening harder than ever now – and showing their employees what they’re doing in response.

Download Listening in a time of crisis for more detail on the questions all organisations should be asking and join our webinar with Qualtrics to learn the latest in employee engagement and experience on 25 June.

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About the contributor

Judith is an Associate Director & Team Leader and is responsible for the delivery of Korn Ferry’s Listen portfolio across the ASEAN markets. She partners with clients to accelerate and maximize the impact of their Employee Experience programmes.

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