By Victor Assad, Managing Partner of InnovationOne.

Many organizations trying to fight falling employee engagement numbers are making a mistake. Frankly, now is not the time to deal with such matters. Instead of launching another employee engagement survey, listen to your employees’ frustrations and begin to work through them in a very transparent way. Then, improve your culture, and in time, you will have a more loyal and resilient workforce and better company and financial performance.

Despite governments across North America and Europe rolling back mask requirements, catching Covid-19 remains a fear for half the workforce. According to The Conference Board, employee engagement has fallen by 24 percent during the pandemic. Nearly half the workforce in early 2022 is concerned about contracting Covid-19 at work and spreading it to their families.

The past two years have been tumultuous, and 2022 has the earmarks of remaining that way. Covid-19, while receding now, is becoming endemic and will strike again. Inflation is the highest it’s been in 40 years and employee turnover remains high during an era of long-term labor shortages. As well, companies are solidifying their hybrid and remote work models, and the private sector is launching digitization efforts that can be disruptive to the workforce.

Billions of dollars are spent on employee engagement, even though this metric can be misleading. True,  it can put a useful focus on how managers lead their teams, coach, give feedback, and the employee’s alignment to the purpose of an organization. But it does not measure other critical issues relating to how employees affect the performance of their organizations. For example, employee engagement does not measure the effectiveness of training, digitalization initiatives, the performance management or reward systems, the health or toxicity of an organization’s culture, and the organization’s alignment to innovation strategies and projects. In addition, the shift to hybrid and remote work has changed the operating norms for how teams communicate and make decisions.

Employees remain willing to join a new employer who offers ten percent or higher wage increase, better benefits, and more opportunities for hybrid working and flexible work scheduling. However, there are still ways to confront the Great Resignation. The research shows that employees will stay with an employer that has a respectful, transparent, and cooperative work culture (provided the employees are not significantly underpaid). Earlier this year, MIT researchers uncovered that toxic organizational cultures drive employee turnover ten times more than pay. This is an astounding finding with pay increases at a ten year high.

Improving employee engagement is the wrong focus during the Great Resignation. Improving organizational culture can take two years or more. What should employers do now to stop employees from leaving?

The answer is simple. Address the most critical concerns of employees and fix them. This simple answer will also help improve the organizational culture.

Here are three sure-fire ways to address employee concerns in 2022 and alleviate their stress.

1 – Put a priority on keeping employees safe during tumultuous times. Although the Omicron variant appears to be waning across North America, we can’t forget that different employees will feel comfortable with contrasting levels of risk. As mentioned above, many employees remain fearful of catching Covid-19 at work. Covid-19 has gone from a pandemic to an endemic and will remain a threat to employee health. It will keep mutating and reappearing. Each time it does, management needs to keep their employees and families safe. If employees are not safe, they are not productive.

2 – Have managers conduct “stay-interviews.” We are used to conducting pulse surveys on every topic and high-tech solutions in this era of digitization, but when employees have been working remotely and going through stressful change, having a face-to-face stay conversation with their manager, that is focused on the employee, will send a message that “I care about you.” Stay interviews are an excellent way for managers to improve relationships with their employees and understand their likes, dislikes, and career preferences. With stay interviews, I advise that managers ask these questions:

  1. What work do they like and not like on their jobs?
  2. What are their perceived strengths, development areas, and concerns?
  3. What is one thing they would like to start doing on their jobs?
  4. What is one thing they would like to stop doing on their job?
  5. What are their short- and long-term career goals?
  6. What advice do they have for the manager?

The final step with a stay-interview — being clear on what you can change and what you cannot change — is the most important. Then, follow through.

Managers I have coached to conduct these interviews frequently tell me they have never learned so much about their employees. It has helped them build trust, and it makes giving feedback and coaching more welcomed and useful. In addition, it may uncover significant issues about team morale and new initiatives. Addressing these concerns can go a long way to improving productivity and employee morale.

Mangers have a significant role to play during turbulent times. Our research at InnovationOne, LLC, with The Fortune 1000, The Conference Board, and public sector research labs, has found that one of the best predictors of employee and innovation team success is the sponsorship and support of the team’s manager. Key to the team’s success is a manager who listens to employee input and suggestions, helps clarify goals, provides frank feedback and coaching, gives direction on how the team can overcome obstacles, and seeks additional resources for the team.

3 – It is critical in turbulent times to check on the success of new initiatives and how the implementation is going. Research shows that digitization and enterprise-wide change improve when the culture is open to it and affected employees are involved in the change. When the outside world is going crazy, significant changes to workflows can be especially stressful to employees if they do not understand the change, how it will improve work, or whether it will eliminate their jobs. Efforts to digitize work processes will be more successful when affected employees are involved in the change and understand how the changes will affect their job, pay, and employment.

Don’t worry about falling employee engagement. Instead, ask your employees what concerns them and address their issues. The long-term solution is to improve the organizational culture.

To learn more about how InnovationOne, LLC, works with organizations to improve their culture and achieve higher outcomes, please contact us.

About InnovationOne®, LLC.

InnovationOne®, LLC, helps organizations worldwide build a culture of innovation and make it sustainable. InnovationOne® uses a scientifically developed assessment to measure, benchmark, and improve your company’s culture and capability to innovate and enjoy better outcomes and financial results. Companies scoring in the top quartile of our InnovationOne Culture Index© reported higher financial performance than bottom quartile performers by as much as 22 percent.