Employee engagement is defined by Puja Lalwani of toolbox.com as the emotional investment (i.e. passion or involvement) employees make in their organizations. This means that engaged employees identify with the goals of the organization and make efforts to align their own goals with the organization’s goals.
In the time of COVID, it is important that leaders and managers properly manage their employees to enhance performance, identify opportunities for growth and development, safeguard employee’s health and well-being, and ensure business continuity.
There are many kinds of employees given the complexity present in today’s modern organizations. I believe that the first step before leaders and managers take action is to understand their employees. I suggest that they classify their employees according to the three categories suggested by Lalwani: 1) Engaged 2) Disengaged and 3) Actively Disengaged.
In most cases, engaged employees are very productive. They work with initiative and actively participate in company projects and activities. They are also very supportive of company initiatives and new programs, especially in times of crisis.
When working with engaged employees, it is important to understand that they are motivated and committed. It may not be necessary to remind them of the extra effort and sacrifice expected of them during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. They take the initiative to ensure the organization’s best interest, even at the expense of their own health and safety.
Therefore, leaders and managers should pay special attention to their health, safety and well-being. Check if engaged employees get enough rest and sleep. Do they have the required personal protective equipment? Do they have the resources (i.e., budget, headcount, equipment) needed to do the job? If they work from home, are their computers up to date and internet connection reliable? Do they have access to safe and reliable transportation if they need to report to the office or factory?
A prolonged crisis like a pandemic requires a mid to long-term approach when managing engaged employees. Ensuring that employees remain healthy during the crisis is more important than the short-term completion of tasks and activities. Balancing the workload among employees and de-prioritizing non-essential projects and activities help ensure that engaged employees are not overworked.
Perhaps certain deadlines can be relaxed, and projects with tight deadlines can be adjusted to lessen the stress and pressure on engaged employees. Remember it is a bigger problem to lose engaged employees to COVID or mental health concerns (e.g., burnout or depression) than handle a delay or postponement of a project or activity.
The second classification of employees is disengaged employees. Disengaged employees are productive. However, they lack initiative and participation in company projects and activities seen in engaged employees. They focus their time and energy on complying with required activities. While they are supportive of company initiatives and new programs, the lack of initiative means that they are not likely to volunteer or go the extra mile if they are not asked.
When dealing with disengaged employees, it is best to identify activities and projects aligned with their interests and strengths. Perhaps new activities and initiatives arising from the pandemic can be assigned to disengaged employees if they are aligned with their interest and strengths. Non-critical tasks and activities previously handled by engaged employees can be reassigned to disengaged employees. The important thing to do is to communicate and present to them the opportunity to contribute and participate. Remember that a crisis is a good opportunity to discover new talent within the organization.
The third classification of employees is actively disengaged employees. In most cases, actively disengaged employees are openly dissatisfied with the company, their job, or their boss. They are also very critical of management’s action and inaction.
It is best to ensure compliance with all legal requirements and health and safety protocols mandated by the government. Communicating the organization’s efforts to handle best the pandemic plays an important role in demonstrating management’s concern towards the health and safety of all employees. Listening to their concerns is also very important.
While they may express it in an aggressive or adversarial tone, it may surprise you that some of their concerns and points make good inputs for improvements. The key for leaders and managers is to look beyond the aggressive or adversarial communication style, exercise patience and evaluate the concerns raised objectively.
As mentioned earlier, there are many types of employees in an organization. Properly identifying the different employees, understanding their behavior, and anticipating their needs allow leaders and managers to properly respond and engage their employees in the new normal.
Patrick David Cenon is an Assistant Professorial Lecturer at De La Salle University. He teaches undergraduate and graduate subjects in the Behavioral Sciences Department, College of Liberal Arts and the Marketing and Advertising Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business. Prior to joining DLSU, he worked for Toyota for over 13 years, supporting various projects in the Philippines, Asia-Pacific, and Europe regions. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.