Honesty best policy for employee engagement

Kirstin guptill

As human resource professionals, our jobs revolve around the people in our organizations. During this time of pandemic precautions and a return to work, we must re-evaluate how we engage with our teams, employees and even job applicants. What’s more, organizations must formulate plans for employees to return to work and what that looks like. It’s more important than ever to communicate plans and remain engaged with those working remotely.

While we talk a lot about keeping employees engaged while working remotely, are you available and really communicating with your people? Our teams rely on us. Often, we’re the quiet ones in the room that employees come to when they have a question or concern. Maybe they only think of talking to HR when they don’t know the next step in a situation. Sound familiar?

None of us truly know what will happen in two weeks, let alone two months. So, what can we do as HR professionals to help our teams and employees? We can be honest. We can share what we do know. First and foremost, communication must convey the we you and our organizations have for staff. There are many unanswered questions about handling this crisis, but we can remain open to talking about our worries.

I often see employees who just want a semblance of normal, some reassurance they’re safe, their jobs are safe and their families are safe. While we can’t guarantee these things, what we can do is listen. Validate their concerns and serve as a sounding board as they work through processing the situation.

No matter if your organization has shut down, paused normal functions or is preparing to reopen, have you considered your communications to those you might have been in the process of recruiting? Have you reached out to applicants to let them know you value their interest and given them an idea of what the future might hold? That’s important whether recruiting has stopped, the process has changed or you’re simply being honest that in the light of this pandemic and a new set of challenges, you’re doing your best to come up with a viable plan.

I ask this because when this crisis is over — and, yes, it will end — will you be 10 steps behind or will you be able jump in and re-engage those who were interested in working with your organization before the coronavirus changed our lives? Applicants value communication. Don’t let the pandemic diminish the work you do or the desire of others who want to work with you.

Reintegration is a key topic we read and hear about in the news. Will your operation return to what it once was? Will your staff continue to work remotely? Or will you develop a plan that mixes the two? Communication remains crucial. Employees shouldn’t have to ask when they’re returning, but know their organizations have a plan. Honesty really is the best policy. We’ve learned over the last 60 days what we know today could be different tomorrow. When you’ve built a level of communication with employees based on trust and follow through, they’ll understand when the next curve ball is thrown.

So how do we reintegrate? Just letting everyone come back to work isn’t necessarily the right answer. Reach out to employees to gauge the concern and the successes they’re seeing. Perhaps productivity has increased. Maybe an employee has a young child and no childcare because their facility is only working at a minimum capacity. If you don’t know the successes and struggles employees face, you won’t be able to help them when the time comes to adjust again.

Consider conducting a return-to-work survey. You could gain some valuable information from the results that presents a clearer path toward more normal operations.

At the end of the day, no one really knows what will happen. However, we can control how we respond and communicate with employees. Do what you can to reduce the fear of the unknown by being the person your organization needs to navigate these changes.