Management of Employee Engagement during the Pandemic

The recent pandemic has inconceivably disrupted the way we know our workplace. One of the things at the workplace that has changed irrevocably in this unprecedented crisis is the way people and groups interact with each other, which is what the study of organisational behaviour is all about. We know that at the heart of organisational behaviour lie collaboration, interpersonal skills, group dynamics and team working. The greater the human interaction, camaraderie, and collegiality, the better the work environment and organisational effectiveness. HR teams in organisations have spent humongous number of working hours, investment huge efforts and money on interventions, tools and techniques to enhance organisational effectiveness. One cannot but wonder, in the current scenario, at the unfortunate fate of team building initiatives like the mandatory team outs or employee engagement activities like celebration of festivals, birthdays, accomplishments, all organised with the aim of creating a happy workplace.

The tools and techniques that emphasized enhancing team working and collaboration like feisty brainstorming sessions or animated discussions in pertinently designed discussion rooms or the endless meetings that shaped organisational behaviour have become things of the past. There are now no long-drawn lunch-room discussions, water cooler gossip, exchanging of knowledge at the coffee area, canteen or lounge, sharing of advice or just friendly banter, and all of which has connected us with fellow human beings helping draw energy, inspiration and support from each other. I am sure some of us miss those business luncheons, the get-together dinners and hanging out at the café outside or pubs.

There is uncertainty about whether the extent the work environment built with much effort over a period of time will sustain. With social distancing norms it obvious that the usual practices cannot be continued. The HR leaders now have to rethink employee engagement and be innovative in their approach to improve behaviour and thereby organisational effectiveness. Apart from ensuring safety of workers in the organisation, the work from home transition has extended HR leaders’ responsibility to ensure employee emotional well-being. There is a pressing need to address the issues of isolation anxiety, allay fears of uncertainty and think of mechanisms to de-stress the employees during these times. These responsibilities are burdening the HR departments who already have their hands full with the usual responsibilities of acquiring, developing, maintaining and engaging employees.

The need of the hour for HR leaders is to ensure effective and transparent communication. They should focus on ways and means to improve two-way communications among managers and employees, choose appropriate remote working tools that facilitate team working not only ensuring employees stay connected but also guaranteeing a human focused approach when automation and technology enabled collaboration tools take over in-person interaction and physical meetings.

HR department alone cannot handle such enormous responsibility without the active participation of the managers and support from top leadership. At these difficult times it is critical that leaders and managers work with HR and ensure that the work environment and organisational culture fostered through systematic employee engagement initiatives over the years are not eroded. Facilitating regular leadership communication, trusting employees and giving them more autonomy, providing fair compensation and offering emotional support are some of the engagement strategies that will make employees feel connected and stay committed to the organisation.

by Vandana Madhavkumar