L&D and Employee Engagement Matter in the COVID-19 Work Reality

The current uncertain situation over the Coronavirus provides opportunities for Learning and Development (L&D) to do what it does best. It’s also a chance to leverage the power of employee engagement to aid productivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on the global economy. Travel has all but come to a halt, oil prices crashed, and all but those deemed essential have either been asked to work from home or been furloughed. While most of our attention has been on how to care for the infected, stanch the spread, and keep ourselves safe, businesses also have had to look at the implications for day-to-day operations.

Conferences are canceled or postponed, which means many training events also are being rescheduled or suspended. This can put a nasty kink in any well-considered learning program.

Do you have a contingency plan? With your people working from home and mostly not traveling, will you still be able to provide development opportunities in an online, on-demand environment?

For organizations that already rely heavily on virtual learning and on-demand e-learning, this situation will have little impact. But we’ve seen in our research that the No. 1 way companies deliver training is still in-person, instructor-led training (ILT)—and right now, the last thing we need is anything that’s “hands-on.”

Quickly converting in-person classes, sessions, or workshops to virtual is a good first step. But how adept are your in-person instructors at facilitating virtual sessions? They do not necessarily require the same skill set, so ensure you have the right people running these sessions.

Many organizations have been digitally transforming for some time, converting ILT content to online assets. This outbreak may force them to kick those efforts into high gear.

Challenges like this can have far-reaching implications, even for learning. As learning paths are put on hold and delayed, any outcomes that were pursued most likely also will be delayed. It is not just learning completion that could suffer, but the business itself. Implications will be felt months and years after this crisis has been resolved. And while it may be too late to prevent disruptions, the effort can at least help right now and lay a foundation of preparedness for the next challenge. What’s your plan?

The Employee Engagement Angle: Now Is the Time to Earn Your Employees’ Trust

Though everything in (and now mostly out of) the workplace has changed, what employees need from their employers and leaders remains the same.

In Brandon Hall Group’s 2020 Employee Engagement Study, organizations told us these were the most important steps to improve engagement:

  • Create a sense of belonging.
  • Enable teamwork, collaboration.
  • Create an atmosphere of trust.
  • Consistently recognize and show appreciation.
  • Improve employee perceptions that their work is meaningful.
  • Give employees the freedom and authority they need to make decisions related to their jobs.

All these actions help create better everyday employee experiences—which is the key to engagement.

As employees adjust how, when, and where they work, it’s a great opportunity for employers to do a better job at what they already know is important.

Whether your employees are working remotely for the first time, working different shifts, taking on new responsibilities, working fewer hours, or are furloughed, they must understand their roles, what they can expect, how they can help, and how you can help. Here are some suggestions:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Leading organizations we interviewed have COVID-19 taskforces, including a group focusing on employee messaging. The more information you share, the easier employees can cope. You also confirm their value and show your empathy.
  • Solicit ideas. Don’t pretend to know all the answers. Ask your employees for suggestions. That reinforces your commitment to collaboration and teamwork—plus, you are likely to get brilliant ideas you hadn’t considered.
  • Welcome feedback. Not everything will go perfectly. Some people will be critical. Solicit and welcome feedback. A critical component to engagement is employees feeling they are heard. Soliciting feedback demonstrates your willingness to listen. Also, let employees know how you acted on their suggestions.
  • Facilitate collaboration. Use whatever tools you have to get people working together to solve problems. For example, social-collaboration tools might be second-nature to some and completely foreign to others. Let the natives help the novices get on board (i.e., foster teamwork). Then use the tools to spread collaboration to mitigate the isolation of expanded work-at-home and other unfamiliar situations.
  • Recognize good work and good deeds. People do extraordinary work and demonstrate astonishing kindness in crises. Make sure to encourage people to recognize each other in whatever ways are available. Management should take extra steps to recognize and, if practical, reward employees for going the extra mile to help colleagues and customers.
  • Share success stories. Companies are working through a slew of challenges. Show employees their work is meaningful by sharing great outcomes.
  • Help employees cope. Everyone is stressed. If possible, dedicate a team of people to help employees. For example, one company repurposed a “life events services team” that prepares employees for retirement, maternity leave, medical leave, and other circumstances. Those people—plus reallocated staff from HR—now handle virus questions and track people at risk of exposure, helping as needed.
  • Trust employees to make decisions. Our world is in flux. It will be impossible to control everything employees do. Give them as much direction as time and circumstances allow, welcome questions, then allow them to do their jobs. Let employees know you trust them. It will help you get through this and will carry over when the crisis subsides.

Collectively, these actions can go a long way to reinforce your employees’ trust in the organization and improve their impressions based on how you react in the face of crisis and uncertainty.

The context of employee engagement has changed dramatically over the last couple of months, but the opportunity and importance remain. Seize the moment!

To download a complimentary copy of Brandon Hall Group’s Managing Remotely During Disruption Playbook- Research and Guidance for COVID-19 and Beyond, click here.

David Wentworth is principal learning analyst and Claude Werder is senior vice president of Research Operations and principal HCM analyst at Brandon Hall Group. The firm’s vision is to inspire a better workplace experience, and its mission is to empower excellence in organizations around the world through its research and tools. Brandon Hall Group has five HCM practices and produces the Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards and the annual HCM Excellence Conference, in West Palm Beach, FL.