HR needs to act to protect employee engagement

Companies need to focus on employees’ emotions and keep their promises if they want to restore productivity and engagement, according to Gartner’s chief of HR research Brian Kropp

Kropp suggested the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on employees’ personal and work lives is leading to anxiety, frustration and burnout.

And when left unattended these feelings can affect staff productivity and engagement, leading to poor work quality, errors and eventually influencing an organisation’s ability to survive in these difficult times.

He said: "Most companies have focused on scenario planning and necessary operational responses to ensure business continuity. However, these plans often do not address or affect employees’ ability to focus on their work.”

Kropp outlined activities HR should help managers with to ensure employees get the necessary support to deal with the emotional response that comes with a global crisis.

The first is to make sure managers can recognise signs of distress among their people, both directly through conversations and indirectly through observation.

Kropp suggested HR should provide managers with guidance on how best to broach sensitive subjects and then support them to have regular conversations with their teams.

Secondly, Kropp thinks managers need to use objectives to create clarity and that HR leaders should help managers reassert the link between employees’ work and organisational success.

“One of the top engagement drivers for employees is seeing their work contribute to company goals,” he said.

Companies have been promising their employees that they care for and value them and that they will protect them and their careers in times of need, reasoned Kropp. It’s vital that organisations visibly follow through on this promise.

Kropp explained: “Managers need to redouble their recognition efforts, as effective recognition not only motivates the recipient but can serve as a strong signal to other employees of behaviours they should emulate.”

HR should also help to reinforce organisational values to reduce the likelihood of misconduct, and tailor recognition to acknowledge employee efforts.

Lastly, HR should assist in driving engagement via innovation.

Kropp argued that although people become more risk-averse in an uncertain environment, at times of change and disruption innovation and risk-taking become even more important for employee engagement and organisational success.