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Learn how to engage employees and boost their morale in our latest blog post.
Intermittent lockdowns. Endless screen time. Social isolation.
The pandemic has extracted a heavy toll on everyone, and your employees are no different. Morale, whether you know it or not, is unlikely to be as high as it was pre-pandemic. Engagement, too, might be flagging as employees trudge through one Zoom meeting after another.
Little wonder attrition rates across the industry are skyrocketing.
If you want to carry forward your success from 2021 into the current year, you have to actively manage employee morale and engagement. A hands-off approach might have worked before the pandemic, but now is the time to make key changes that will help you retain talent.
In this post, I’m going to share six actionable tactics you can apply today to manage employee morale, such as:
- Removing uncertainty from remote work policies
- Fixing communication issues
- Helping employees establish better work-life boundaries
1. Understand the problem
I know it sounds repetitive, but you really can’t fix your morale issue if you don’t really understand the heart of the problem.
And the heart of the problem is this: your employees are exhausted. They’re tired of staring at screens all day, of not knowing when - or if - they’ll have to start coming to the office, of the uncertainty of the pandemic.
In the middle of it all, they’re also aware that they have options.
The demand for tech and digital talent has never been higher. You’ve already experienced it - the attrition rate is at an all-time high and your payroll has skyrocketed. An agency employee who isn’t happy has only to send out a handful of emails before getting an offer.
Your problem, thus, is twofold: your employees are disengaged and exhausted. And they’re also happy to jump ship for better offers. Retaining them and keeping them happy isn’t something you can put off anymore - you have to deal with it as a top priority.
2. What not to do
The pandemic was a once-in-a-century event. There are no guidebooks and manuals for dealing with it as an employer. You can’t rely on conventional wisdom because there really isn’t any.
Consequently, lots of seemingly common-sense approaches that you think might work actually don’t.
Take team building exercises as an example. You’d think that in the middle of a pandemic and social isolation, getting the team together for some fun activities would be a hit, but studies show that they’re one of the least effective morale boosting tactics.
Another common mistake is to focus on ‘positive news’ and avoid talking about the pandemic. This sounds like an obvious tactic as well, but research shows that team members feel a closer bond if they are allowed or even encouraged to talk about their fears and frustrations.
Turns out, misery does love company.
Whatever else you do, make sure that you:
- Avoid mandatory team building activities that aren’t tied to your work
- Don’t force ‘positivity’ or discourage employees from talking about the pandemic and/or their frustrations with it
3. Remove the uncertainty from remote work
As we’ve mentioned in the past, remote work is clearly the future of agencies. Even if you don’t go fully remote, you will have to offer top talent some flexibility in how, when, and where they work.
(Only a quarter of employees prefer working from an office - Source)
Of course, by now, this is established wisdom and most agencies have already reshaped their business models for a remote future.
What isn’t clear to employees, however, is whether this remote model is a temporary stop-gap or a permanent arrangement. And this is one of the core causes of their current anxieties.
Your employees simply want certainty. It doesn’t matter whether you decide to go remote-only, office-only, or hybrid - all they want is clarity about the future. Lots of employees have held back on major life decisions over the last two years; in 2022, they want to know for sure if they’ll have to move back to the city or if they can work from anywhere.
This uncertainty applies to every facet of remote work. From the tools you use to your current office hours, there are likely a lot of ad-hoc measures in your current workflow. Both you and your employees know that this isn’t meant to last.
In 2022, one of your goals should be to comb through your remote work playbook, analyze all the tools and best practices you’ve been using, and ask yourself: Will this process last the next 5-10 years?
If the answer is no, you need to replace it with something more permanent and robust. Let go of your duct-taped Google Sheets + Slack + Zoom combo and replace it with a more permanent solution like Workamajig.
This will give your employees some much-needed stability and a sense of order.
4. Fix your communication
You might have a clear vision for your agency post-pandemic, but are you doing enough to communicate it to your employees?
This employee-employer communication gap is one of the key sources of anxiety for employees in the aftermath of the pandemic. With the breakdown of conventional communication channels, employees, especially remote-only employees, simply don’t know what direction you’re going to take.
According to a survey by McKinsey, only a third of organizations are doing a good enough job of communicating their vision for post-pandemic work. Furthermore, workers who are not being communicated to clearly are also much more likely to feel anxious about the future.
Think of this as another aspect of uncertainty. Your goal in 2022 should be to give your employees as much clarity as possible. And communicating your plans for this year and beyond is a core part of that approach.
Some ways you can do this include:
- Publish high-level ‘vision’ documents about your goals and approaches for post-pandemic work
- Encourage managers to hold one-on-one meetings with employees and communicate your future plans
- Establish clear policies about remote work and ensure that everyone knows about them
5. Give power back to employees
In February last year, Spotify introduced a new “My Work Mode” program for most of its employees. Under this program, employees would get together with their managers to chart out their own “work mode”. Employees could decide how much (or how little) they wanted to work from the office/home, and which cities/countries they could work from.
The goal of this program was to give employees a greater sense of power and control over their work. In the aftermath of a pandemic where people had little control over their work, travel, and even health, this was meant to boost morale and engagement.
Whether it worked or not is something only Spotify knows, but it exemplifies a key problem employees have currently: they don’t feel that they’re in control.
The antidote to this problem is to start giving employees some degree of power over their own work. Don’t dictate terms to them. Instead, fold them into your decision making.
Some practical ways to apply this tactic include:
- Give remote workers the flexibility to choose their coworking space
- For hybrid workplaces, let employees choose which days they work from home
- Offer remote workers the flexibility of location and time zone, within reasonable limits
- Give employees the freedom to choose their equipment (especially work laptops)
You, of course, will have the final say. But it doesn’t hurt to make employees feel that they are not completely powerless in their work decisions.
6. Give them a break
Let’s face it: your people are tired and burnt out. They’ve been working constantly for nearly two years. Their pre-pandemic work-life separation has completely broken down. And throughout it all, they’ve had to deal with a tough pandemic.
They deserve a break.
Does that mean bundling them off on a week-long vacation?
A “break” isn’t just about giving them time off. It also means helping them break out of their increasingly wonky work-life balance. “Regular” office hours are a thing of the past in post-pandemic, remote-only life. Since most teams are stuck at home, you invariably end up with meetings at odd times.
This constant bombardment of work meetings takes its toll. Employees never feel that they’ve had a chance to switch off. And it’s one of the core reasons for the current burnout epidemic.
In fact, better work-life balance is the no. 1 hope among employees post-pandemic, even more than better pay, according to McKinsey.
Furthermore, the top priority for employees is clarity over their work hours and availability (as opposed to the current always-online mode).
Additionally, as the above image shows, employees also want a “break” from duct-taped tools and solutions. They want something that is standardized and integrated - like Workamajig.
If you want to attract and retain talent in 2022, it’s time to start thinking about a “break” beyond a week-long vacation. While employees will certainly appreciate it, it won’t have a lasting impact on their engagement or morale.
Instead, help employees break out of the last two years of always-on work mode. Give them better tools and offer them control over their work.
If you can do that, you’ll find that your employees are happier, more productive, and less likely to leave you for the next offer that hits their inbox.
One way to help employees succeed is to give them better tools. Your people will collaborate much better if they have access to robust, standardized, and integrated solutions like Workamajig. Instead of piecing together insight from multiple sources, Workamajig gives your employees a single dashboard to monitor all their work.