Not long ago, office foyer covered with roses and hearts on Valentine’s Day, pumpkins and skulls on Halloween and myriad hues splashed on Holi were familiar moments of our working lives. Those were days when each season and holiday was celebrated in style while employees bonded over frosted cake and chilled cola.
Organizations went out of their way to create employee engagement programs that would spark joy, build emotional bonds, and hopefully strengthen loyalty to the company.
In the pandemic era the scene has completely changed. With remote working, bonding activities are almost down to zero. However, employee engagement has to continue.
What is Employee Engagement?
Employee Engagement is about helping employees understand their purpose, how they fit in, and align themselves to the goals of the organisation. It is a measure of the mental and emotional connection that employees feel toward their place of work.
One of the most important facts to remember is that employee engagement goes far beyond collective activities, games, and events.
What employee engagement is not
The new normal of Employee Engagement was discussed at length in a programme on Story Talkies, an initiative by We-Storytellers. In an insightful conversation, punctuated with real-life examples and plenty of humour, Vikramjit Singh Sahaye, Founder and CEO of Hiring Plug spoke to Swati Sam, Org Communication Lead, We-Storytellers about the latest developments in the field of employee engagement. As a serial entrepreneur who has founded several companies and led multiple organisations Vikramjit is clearly a doyen in the field of people practices.
“Irrespective of the medium, whether offline or online, the fundamentals of having an engaged employee are ‘personalisation’,” he says. Vikramjit further adds “having special decorations and a party are not engagement. It is a tactical initiative that generally improves the mood for a moment. A lot of people make this mistake and continue to focus on hosting special events. But that is not real engagement.”
While a fun working environment can contribute to engagement to some extent, it may only make your employees happy in the short run without contributing to long term sustained engagement.
How can employee engagement occur remotely?
Now, when most employees are working remotely, mental health issues such as depression, loneliness, lack of motivation have increased. Apart from facing these, they could also be facing health complications, family troubles, and financial woes. Employee engagement, therefore, has to be approached very differently.
Even today, many companies are organizing virtual fitness classes, online happy hours, trivia quizzes, Pictionary, or online training programmes.
“But real engagement happens when you map the aspiration of the employee to the aspiration of the organisation in a way that everybody feels happy doing what they are doing,” says Vikramjit.
Know the aspirations of the employees
Vikramjit gives an anecdote from his previous firm, a leading financial company that had an issue with their Gallup engagement scores. Despite the fact that they were spending a lot of money, their engagement levels were down.
“We did a probe and we did some individual surveys too,” he says, “and discovered that the needs were different for different people.”
“We found that the people in the BPO sector, a segment which typically has youngsters who come to work at odd hours and make phone calls one after another, only wanted half an hour extra lunchtime. Their idea of engagement was not about rewards, nor about parties. It was only half an hour more to bond with other people.”
Another set of employees who had spent 30-35 years of service in the company did not care too much about the money or the expensive watch that they were given on completion of a milestone. What really mattered to them was bringing their families to the award function and the opportunity to talk about how their family members had supported them so that they could work better.
“Similarly, there were a set of people who were extremely well paid,” explains Vikramjit. “Money had no value for them. They had only few aspirations. Some of them wanted recognition in their sector as experts and mentors. One of them wanted to do a course at Harvard University while on paid leave for two months.”
Match the aspirations of the company with the individual
Each employee is unique and we should stop treating everyone the same way.
“If we say we are having a party for everyone, that is fine. If you are able to map the individual requirements to the overall objective of the company, even better. That is when the engagement really happens. Otherwise, it is all a matter of depending on your manager and the initiatives that he or she takes,” he says.
Rewards and recognition in remote work
It is important to keep the morale of the company high, which is why rewards or recognition will always achieve positive results, especially when employees are working remotely.
One of the best ways to enhance employee engagement is by making communication a priority with daily check-ins and making sure that no employee feels excluded or overwhelmed by the volume of work. Engaging with the employee should be a priority, either by the team lead or the designated chief. Any important company news should also be conveyed to employees as soon as possible.
Secondly, it is important that employees find time for their families and this can be achieved by establishing a clear work-life balance. Some companies like Zerodha, for instance, have stopped all work-related chats after 6 pm and on holidays in order to allow employees to de-stress. Some companies are also offering their teams permission to work four days a week. All these initiatives can foster a healthy mental attitude towards work and leisure.
Other initiatives include peer-to-peer employee recognition, instituting special awards, acknowledging personal achievements, offering gift cards or a bonus, delegating a team award, or expressing appreciation for an employee on social media.
In conclusion – what does the future hold?
Increasingly, the future of employee engagement will rest on meeting core human needs. Companies will foster a sense of belonging, enable employees with tools to get work done, offer respect, and provide them with a sense of a greater goal and purpose.
The fun and the parties should never go away, but in the future, employees can look beyond entertainment and temporary joys to feel engaged. They will enjoy feeling needed and respected too.