How HR Leaders Can Avoid Employee Disengagement in the Age of Remote Work
Many organisations — including mine — have swiftly embraced remote work with minimal preparation.
Whilst working from home has its perks, such as spending more time with loved ones, it also has some disadvantages. For instance, “Quick call?” or “Let’s catch up!” messages from my team have declined. This could’ve easily resulted in employee disengagement at our virtual workplace had I not stepped in.
A Peek Into 50 Years of Employee Engagement Research
Employee engagement, according to Gallup, is determined by the following:
- Clarity in role and what’s expected of you
- Proper training or having the right equipment to do the job
- Shared values, mission and purpose
In a 2020 article by Gallup, it states that “actively disengaged” employees, or those who have miserable work experiences, tend to spread their unhappiness to their colleagues. Gallup conducted a research where 13% of 4,724 full- and part-time U.S. employees working from 27 April to 17 May, 2020, make up those “actively disengaged” employees.
Gallup’s research indicates that how organisations respond to crisis affects employee engagement and that organisational practices, such as executive involvement and open communication, correlate with the changes in engagement. Additionally, one of Gallup’s biggest discoveries: “the leaders account for 70% of the variance in team engagement.”
What My Experience With GM Holden Closure Had Taught e
In 2017, I took the lead in GM Holden as it was closing down the automotive industry. Between 40,000 and 50,000 people were going to be impacted by the closure, so we had to carefully plan the redundancy.
My HR leadership team and I built a world-class transition centre with a holistic approach to employee transition. It didn’t just focus on helping GM Holden employees with outplacement but also on supporting their families.
I was part of a leadership team that was all about transparency and treating people with dignity and respect. I invested my time and energy in getting to know people so I could help them exit with grace and successfully transition to new roles.
Why I Was Nicknamed “The Velvet Sledgehammer”
Redundancies are hard. Restructures are hard. Change is hard. Whilst working at Holden, employees started calling me “The Velvet Sledgehammer.” My leadership approach then and now is quite simple: soft but very firm and direct if need be. I strive to keep the balance between empowering my people and holding them accountable for their work.
People-focused. To get better business outcomes, I knew there should be mutual trust and respect between the leaders and employees. A win-win situation.
I’ve also started opening up — and I’ve learnt this the hard way — about how the GM Holden closure and various situations have personally impacted me. By opening up, people would go “Wow, I’m not the only one feeling this way!” I think vulnerability, empathy and humility go hand in hand with people-focused leadership.
Applying What I’ve Learnt to Set Leaders and Their People Up to Digital Resilience
As the pandemic takes its toll on people’s mental health and overall well-being, a holistic approach to leadership is more critical now than ever. I’m keen on insisting that we look past the systems and the processes, with all of the organisations and teams that I work with.
When I coach fellow leaders, I ask myself “How do I coach these leaders so they are getting the best out of their people? And not just from a metric point of view but from a values point of view.” If people value something and truly believe in it, they are going to perform better at work.
When my partner, Cybill Juarez, and I started The People Shift, we knew we had to bring back the human side of HR. Other than rallying everyone to embrace the people-focused leadership, we’re also reimagining how team members connect, collaborate and interact in a virtual workspace.
How Remote Leaders Can Stay Connected With Their Teams and Build Digital Resilience
- Start From a Place of Trust and Openness.
The sudden shift to remote work has created more “unconscious biases” within the workplace. The reality is many of us tend to be more forgiving and trusting if people look, talk or behave like us — and this is known as the familiarity bias. And little do leaders know how such a bias creates a feeling of mistrust within their teams.
This could further impact employee morale. By being aware of or acknowledging our unconscious biases and understanding the implications of them, we can start building a place of trust and autonomy.
- Set Clear, Realistic Goals and Outcomes.
A collective sense of purpose drives teams to put their best foot forward. By setting a good example and having clear goals and expectations, leaders rally their teams to deliver exceptional business outcomes.
And again, I encourage leaders to look past the systems and processes. Instead, they should focus on a realistic objective that every team member can own and relate to.
- Lead With Compassion.
Set healthy boundaries, even in a virtual office, and don’t make it all about work. For my team, I’d kick off our meetings with some ice breakers, asking them about their hobbies or how they spent their weekends. We’d have virtual lunches, game nights and mental health sessions. And these go a long way in nurturing team engagement.
It’s easy to notice when a team member stays “offline” or “away” during work hours, and it’s just as easy to realise when a colleague is feeling anxious about a task.
But it’s important to note that tough times don’t always have to call for tough measures. As leaders, we must be proactive in checking in with our people and supporting their well-being in this age of remote work.
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