Over the past several years, we have emphasized the role of data across all aspects of organizational decision making. While this essential practice has allowed companies to make progress, it is now critical that leaders examine the types of data they are collecting and its relevance to the current situation. In order to maintain employee morale and productivity in a time of crisis, a stronger emphasis must be placed on insights and listening than has been the norm.
In our universal quest for measurement first, organizations focus largely on data that can be grouped as operational or engagement measures. Operational measures include overall results that are binary and not to be disputed as a relevant source of information or results. Bottom lines are positive or negative, and while circumstances can explain why those results were achieved, the results themselves are indisputable.
On the other hand, engagement measures typically focus on employee sentiment and attempt to capture the psychological, behavioral and emotional responses of people to policy and practice through surveys and factors like absenteeism and employee retention rates. The challenge with this approach during the Covid-19 pandemic is the amount of noise people are experiencing from the world around them. The introduction of new variables may skew engagement related measures. Even in the most stable companies that have not yet been severely affected by the pandemic, the fear of health-related issues will impact the way employees engage with work.
Assessing engagement in new ways
At a time when furloughs, salary cuts and layoffs are a growing reality, it is crucial for companies to measure employee engagement in new ways to boost performance and increase trust. The most valuable metric related to sentiment right now is confidence. Confidence tells us a great deal about the psychological state of organizations and employees.
Measuring confidence reveals insight into where individuals are feeling strain or pressure and also into what is working well. The lower the confidence score, the more basic the challenge. For example, a low confidence score may mean that employees have issues with safety or physical environment that must be addressed to ensure that employees are able and willing to work. A high confidence score may mean that organizations have met those basic safety needs but may not yet have cracked the code on creating a feeling of connection between employees, an issue that can inhibit the more advanced goals of innovation, growth and rebound.
Measuring confidence, however, requires a shift away from the traditional engagement survey approach. In times when fear has a huge presence, employee candor naturally starts to decline along with the reliability of survey responses. Surveys must be rewritten to directly ask the questions to which a company seeks answers and address real time issues that impact employees. The occasional one-on-one conversation and focus groups are also great tools to quickly gain a deeper understanding of underlying issues. These engagement measures increase the ability of an organization to flag problems early and respond quickly. Sharing company plans in a timely manner will help alleviate employee worries, address productivity needs and provide a degree of stability.
Behavioral data should not be ignored
Additionally, behavioral data may provide the key to capturing actionable information that helps to maintain or strengthen employee engagement. While many companies are masterfully prepared to collect and respond to customer behavioral data, when it comes to employees, our understanding of behavioral data is not as rich. Seldom do we measure behaviors that tell us how our employees may be feeling. Being aware of behaviors like meeting attendance, camera usage, leaving meetings early or showing up late, or even quantity and quality of chat on internal messaging systems may shed light on employee mindsets before symptoms become problematic. Conducting informal pulse surveys, tracking email readership statistics and traffic information from laptops are all key indicators to an employee’s engagement, yet these valuable insights are seldom harvested.
Gathering rich employee-based data for better decision-making in a time of global pandemic means striking a balance between sentiment and behavior. Effective leaders will shift their approach and use formal pull data – like surveys – plus insights as well as listening to gather informal behavioral metrics for a complete picture. In this way, leaders increase the resilience of their employees not only during the crisis, but during the recovery when stress will still be high.