By Peakon Chief People Officer Rick Kershaw
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the modern workplace upside down. But there are positives to come out of this turbulent period. One big surprise for organisations is that, during this time, many employees started to feel more engaged at work.
This was the primary finding of Peakon’s latest report: The impact of COVID-19 on employee engagement. We analysed more than 10 million Peakon employee survey responses to reveal a 2% increase globally in engagement between January and July, 2020 – during the height of the pandemic.
A huge task for businesses, big and small, has been keeping a disrupted workforce engaged during this difficult time – especially as working together within the four walls of a workplace became largely untenable. But it seems that this forced many employers to take proactive and positive steps. That’s why the question being asked now isn’t ‘How do we return to normal?’, but ‘How can we apply the lessons we have learned to create a new, improved future of work for everyone?’.
How businesses are adapting
The first half of 2020 garnered a significant uplift in engagement scores in the Peakon data set — surprising given the chaotic backdrop. Employees were particularly impressed by the opportunity to work remotely (+10%), their working environment (+6%), and their organisation’s support for their mental wellbeing (+5%).
As businesses do eventually return to the workplace, or shift to a hybrid or ‘bit of both’ model, they should remember what employees found fulfilling about work during this time. Interestingly, 16% of the positive comments around remote working explicitly referenced flexibility. This presents an interesting paradox: During a period of restriction and lockdowns, many employees found increased freedoms and autonomy.
Remote Working isn’t going away again
Even before the pandemic, remote working was a hot topic of conversation: Peakon’s 2020 Employee Expectations Report found that employees mentioned flexible working 18% more in their 2019 surveys than the year before.
Then in our more recent COVID-19 impact report, we observed a 10% improvement in responses around remote work as, for many, working from home became a reality for the first time.
This sharp rise reflects the increased autonomy employees felt during the first half of 2020. It’s a sign that employees felt their evolving needs in this department were being heard, valued and met by their employers. Working remotely means something different to everyone, whether it’s the chance to spend less time commuting or more time with family. But clearly, many people see the positives. These learnings cannot be unlearned now – especially if businesses wish to continue to reap the benefits of having a highly engaged workforce, and all that comes with it.
Employee mental wellbeing must remain high on the agenda
Employees felt that their mental wellbeing was better supported by their employers during this difficult time – with a significant increase of 5% between January and July. Having a safe avenue through which to share feedback and feelings has been integral to this. Thanks to the regular and relevant insights our customers were able to collect, either through their usual surveys or our specific wellbeing question set, decisive and effective action was taken to protect employee wellbeing. The results speak for themselves.
In 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that depression and anxiety was costing the global economy $1trillion every year in lost productivity. As we continue to live through this pandemic, all businesses need to put proactive and bespoke policies in place to ensure ongoing support of their employees’ mental wellbeing.
Laying plans for a ‘better’ normal
It’s reassuring that, through a global pandemic, companies using Peakon saw improved employee engagement. But this is no time for complacency.
All leaders must continue to listen intelligently to their people, and use the real time insights at their fingertips to help drive positive change, and create a ‘new normal’ that’s better for everyone. That might mean implementing a new flex or remote working option, or taking your company mental health policy to the next level.
Either way, keep listening to your people and prioritising their needs. When employees feel heard, valued and supported, they are more engaged, productive and empowered to help drive your business forward. Engaged employees are the key to your post-pandemic recovery, the execution of your transformation plans, and your future business success.