If there’s one thing the pandemic has shown us, it is that the employees in a company are its greatest assets. They are the ones whose efforts and drive will ultimately drive the company forward and take it to new heights.
The pandemic has forced everyone into isolation, and as we’re forced to work from home, employee’s work dynamics have completely changed. From mingling with colleagues at the water cooler, we’ve gone to sitting alone at home and speaking over video calls. All of this while the workload on employees has significantly increased.
While every organization has had a different take on how they continue to engage and connect with their employees through these times, the prolonged shift from in-person to virtual has got startups thinking harder on how to optimize their talent while looking out for them in these uncertain times.
So what should startups do to drive effective employee engagement today? What changes can startups make to ensure that the employees feel included, even as they are forced to stay secluded? In this piece, we reflect on lessons from leaders of established corporations to provide solutions to startups to engage better with their workforce factoring in the expectations and demands of the present circumstances.
Empowering employees by allowing them to ‘step up’
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work” – Steve Jobs, Former CEO, Apple
Smaller companies operate with one distinct advantage; their smaller size allows for a far more close-knit work environment, while also giving employees the space and opportunity to rise beyond the scope of what their job description details. Giving employees the chance to step up and make more meaningful contributions to the company objectives will likely increase their own emotional and mental investment in the process, parallely adding different perspectives and greater value to the product/service being offered.
Making room for mistakes, trust and innovation
“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We” – Phil Jackson, Former Coach and NBA Executive
The job market is crippled. And as such, employees are in constant fear of being the next in line for the culling. That leads to many people becoming risk-averse and that, in turn, stifles innovation.
It is important for young and small companies to be creative, to find the best possible solutions to problems, and that becomes difficult if employees are working under the constant threat of dismissal.
Employers must show the employees that it is okay to make small mistakes on the road to innovation, while employees must feel trusted by management to carry out the tasks in the best way possible without putting their jobs on the line.
Understanding employee burnout and tackling it
“When our work regularly spills over into nights, very early mornings and weekends, it can prevent us from recharging fully, and that isn't good for you, nor, ultimately, for Citi” – Jane Fraser, CEO, Citigroup
With all the work being online now, employees find it hard to continue to stay “on” all the time.
With work pressures higher than ever in the race for recovery, it is important for employers to understand that the workforce will, at some point, start to burn out. It becomes imperative for companies to take measures to tackle it, or at the very least, slow it down.
Several firms are experimenting with “Zoom Free Fridays”, meeting free hours or no meeting days, no calls post working hours, among other initiatives - basically redesigning workplace communication norms to combat this problem.
Work will remain demanding for the remainder of this year as well, calling for an intervention from employers to acknowledge and manage the concerning stress levels experienced by employees through understanding their challenges and identifying avenues to support them. Compassionate efforts from employers to understand employee sentiment and well-being concerns will draw greater loyalty and engagement from employees.
Revamping recognition practices to match employee needs
“Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company” – Zig Ziglar, Author
Operating under the “New Normal” , the workforce today is not just looking for better pay, but also recognition for its efforts. Recognizing the efforts of an employee goes a long way in keeping them motivated, engaged and driven to achieve higher goals. An attractive reward and recognition program that meets the employee needs of today - be it special performance bonuses, frequent recognition in team meetings, e-vouchers as a token of appreciation, a day off, among other initiatives - works not only to keep the workforce motivated, but also reflects the willingness of organizations to adapt their outlook and offerings to match what employees seek.
The present times being critical to both the sustainability and growth prospects of startups, making purposeful alterations in age-old rewards and recognition practices will go a long way in building and engaging a high-performing workforce.
Fostering a sense of community within the workplace
“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace” – Doug Conant, CEO, Campbell’s Soup
The employer-employee relationship has now evolved beyond just that of a paymaster and worker. As newer companies are redefining dynamics, they’re also changing up the working relationship between employers and employees.
Employees today expect their workplaces to provide them with a space where they feel valued and heard, and the fairly smaller size of startups serves as a great enabler to building purposeful workplace relationships.
The sentiment of ‘belonging’ is more crucial today than ever before. In this direction, beyond conversations, startups must explore the emerging HR tech marketplace to identify how best they can foster a sense of workplace community through interactive and engaging tools crafted specially to drive conversations and keep the workforce connected.
The New Normal is upon us, and new companies now have a chance to create a new way of operating. A chance to adopt an ‘Employee First’ approach to growth that will not only help employee retention but drive up overall productivity. Companies have a chance now to pave the way for employer-employee relationships for generations to come. How effectively companies weave in the emerging essentials of employee engagement into their people and culture strategies, will shape their road to success.