The COVID Impact: Six Ideas For Improving Employee Experience, Culture

New report from The Conference Board examines how the last 17 months have reshaped employee experience and organizational culture, and what lessons organizations can take away.

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed how, when, and where work gets done. And while a majority of businesses reported that productivity increased as employees settled into working remotely, for many, it came at the expense of the employee experience: Employee burnout, time spent in meetings, and the number of employees with mental health problems increased, while work-life balance, engagement and morale, and the number of employees reporting high levels of personal well-being decreased.

employee experienceA new report from The Conference Board, Reshaping Employee Experience and Organizational Culture: Lessons From the Tumultuous Events of 2020 and 2021, examines how the events of the last 17 months have reshaped both employee experience and organizational culture and what lessons organizations can take away to thrive in the future. The report combines qualitative findings from interviews with seven thriving U.S.-based organizations that reported gains in both productivity and employee engagement, along with quantitative data from an April 2021 survey of more than 200 HR leaders.

Successful organizations each demonstrated several of the following six attributes that can serve as lessons for those rethinking their talent strategies in a world of work forever changed by remote work:

  1. Nix the micromanaging: Trust your employees and offer flexibility.
  • Thriving organizations trusted employees to make good decisions about when and how they performed their work.
  • 80 percent of survey respondents reported an increased focus on flexibility for employees—the single biggest change to organizational culture since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Inherent in flexibility is trust that employees will deliver results without being closely monitored.

2. Silence isn’t golden: Communicate frequently and transparently.

  • Frequent and transparent communication is required to build trust.
  • 68 percent of surveyed companies increased focus on creating robust, consistent, and aligned communication strategies.
  • More than half (56 percent) reported that leaders and managers engaged in regular two-way dialogue with employees.
  • 34 percent said that ensuring the words and actions of leaders are consistent became more of a focus.

“Businesses not only need to trust their employees, but to gain their employees’ trust,” said Robin Erickson, PhD, Principal Researcher, Human Capital at The Conference Board. “The businesses that did this best were those that opened the lines of communication through forums like virtual town halls and skip-level meetings where leaders were authentic. These intentional opportunities for meaningful conversation provided a platform for employees to provide honest feedback, broke down barriers between leadership and staff, and helped leaders to be aware of the experiences of their employees.”

3. Indifference has never been more harmful: Make genuine caring a priority.

  • More so than any other recent crisis, COVID-19 placed organizational focus on employees.
  • Most organizations placed a priority on employee well-being and safety to support workers during the pandemic:
    • 82 percent increased well-being initiatives.
    • 81 percent implemented new safety guidelines in the workplace.
  • Many businesses instructed leaders and managers to have regular check-in calls with staff, ensuring they were doing well, had the resources they needed, and felt connected with the company.

4. Beware of bias: Commit to inclusion.

  • Creating an inclusive environment became a priority, with 59 percent of surveyed organizations increasing their focus on providing stronger support, guidance, and coaching for leaders and managers to do so.
  • 43 percent increased their encouragement of employees to bring their full selves to work.

“The events of 2020 and 2021 accelerated the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion that has been slowly, but steadily growing for decades,” said Rebecca Ray, PhD, Executive Vice President of Human Capital at The Conference Board. “Recognizing the diverse needs and experiences of your employees helps create a working environment where everyone feels respected and valued, allowing your business to truly thrive.”

5. Keep your mission and purpose off the backburner: Amplify them widely and often.

  • A common purpose can serve as a unifying force for remote and geographically dispersed employees.
  • 45 percent of HR leaders surveyed indicated that since the onset of the pandemic, they had placed a greater focus on ensuring that mission, vision, and values are understood and widely championed.

6. Don’t let a crisis go to waste: See it as an opportunity to change and be agile.

  • Those organizations that had already initiated HR transformations prior to 2020 used the recent crises as an opportunity to accelerate their transformation, rather than allowing the crises to impede it.
  • Organizations need to be ready to seize opportunities and continue to evolve with everchanging obstacles to ensure their longevity.
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