December 21, 2021 / Point of View
The following article was edited and originally published on Fast Company.
As 2021 winds down and we near the end of year two of the pandemic, our collective weariness may be more profound than ever before. There is no shortage of articles outlining the stress, fatigue and restlessness that are causing many to question their life choices and priorities. Look no further than the Great Resignation as a real manifestation of this mass reevaluation.
2022 is expected to bring more employees back to the office, at least occasionally, creating the hybrid work experiences many have been predicting. We know that motivated and engaged employees perform better, remain in their jobs longer, and are less likely to experience burnout. How do we keep teams motivated and engaged in this new and untested environment? And how do leaders motivate others when they might be feeling less engaged themselves? Here are several suggestions to help cultivate employee engagement in the evolving hybrid world of 2022.
Employees who feel connected to each other and feel a sense of belonging are more productive and committed to their companies. Leaders should use everything at their disposal, including new technologies, to build connections and a sense of belonging. But let’s not forget the importance of simply walking around the office or picking up the phone to talk with team members. Encourage your managers to do the same. Taking the necessary precautions, host monthly in-person, all-company gatherings for employees to reconnect, as well as special events like team luncheons, wellness discussions, happy hours or even a yoga health retreat to nurture employee engagement. If you need to further encourage employees to return to your space, consider providing an expense allowance that not only promotes collaboration at the office, but also supports local businesses around your office.
Communicate Often and Be Authentic
The pandemic put corporate communications functions to the test and leaders learned firsthand how being authentic and vulnerable builds trust. This won’t change as we continue working in a hybrid environment. Leaders who continue to be transparent with their feelings, both positive and negative, will build stronger connections and loyalty leading to more engaged staff. When people see you being authentic, asking for feedback or acknowledging difficulties, it shows them it’s ok to do the same, and creates a place where people feel they can voice their opinions and be their true selves.
Employees who find purpose in their work are more engaged and productive. As many workers reevaluate their priorities during the pandemic, they’re bound to consider how a company’s purpose and values align with their own. Help employees see the connection between the work they do and the organization’s greater purpose. Reinforce the important role they play. If they crave a new challenge, work with them to identify new career development opportunities. Explore pro-bono or low-bono projects with nonprofit partners. Also, supporting employee resource groups that represent different interests gives employees outlets at work to share their values and shows that the company cares.
It’s common sense to show employees your appreciation, but it might not be felt as deeply in the hybrid workplace. A lack of positive feedback or appreciation can cause workers to feel ineffective or stuck in their jobs. Besides giving feedback and praise during regular interactions, ramp up more formal recognition opportunities. Consider highlighting great work and how employees have lived your corporate values during weekly, monthly or quarterly communication and meetings. Show appreciation in unique ways that also foster connection, like having managers make personal deliveries of special items to people working remotely. Finally, and maybe most important, listen and listen a lot. People feel most appreciated when they are heard.
Prioritize Mental Health
Every New Year’s resolution list should include a focus on mental health. We’ve all been though a lot and workers now rely on employers to help them cope. If you’re not already, offer mental health support in your benefits package. This could include access to online resources, providing a wellness-related allowance that supports employees’ external endeavors, or expert guided gatherings or safe spaces where employees can talk, process issues, and learn from each other.
In times of uncertainty, it’s easy to stay the course and play it safe. However, people have been wading through the global pandemic for almost two years and are ready to move beyond uncertainty. Experienced leaders know that transparency, a clear vision, ambitious goals, and employee appreciation energize workers. It’s time to be bold and make moves that inspire transformational ideas that help us emerge out of the pandemic.
Our hybrid world of 2022 needs to provide flexibility to help workers manage the work/life balance they’ve become accustomed to during the pandemic. It’s also time to take a deep breath and realize everything is going to be different, but okay. Let’s not forget the lessons learned during the pandemic. Let’s not get back on the hamster wheel. And let’s remember what’s most important – people. If you take care of people, they take care of the business.