1 Amity Business School, Amity University, Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India
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The term “employee engagement” represents a broad construct which covers various facets of human resource management, focusing on the strategic initiatives being undertaken by organizations to build trust and reputation among its employees. Despite of the available text on the subject, concrete explanation of the concept still remains. Although much has been written on the subject, yet it remains inconsistently defined and conceptualized. It is a strong factor that impacts employee’s commitment towards the organization, his wellness, and job performance, further laying the foundation of organizational success. It becomes even more relevant in the current time of pandemic when the entire world is facing turbulence and there is a lot of apprehension in the mind of the employees in regard of their financial stability and job security. This article attempts to explore, compile, and present the various engagement strategies generally adopted by companies and newer approaches used during this COVID-19 period using an integrated and comprehensive literature review on the basis of research papers, blogs, articles, newsletters, and reports of various organizations.
Employee engagement, engagement strategies, well-being, COVID-19, pandemic
Employee engagement may be explained as the degree to which employees are committed to the organization and feel passionate about their jobs. It mainly covers two dimensions: job engagement and organization engagement (Saks, 2006). The type of connect between an employer and an employee can be well understood, qualitatively and quantitatively, by the efforts put in by the employer to engage its employees. An employee who always feels positive about his organization and works to uplift its reputation and interests is said to be “highly engaged.” Engaged employees look beyond their individual interests and participate in better decision-making and performance. Engagement is a key driver for growth and innovation.
As globalization is taking the world by storm, the need to integrate human resource practices with the company’s business and its strategy has gained impetus more than ever before. The global environment puts pressure for financial growth, and customers demand better service at an affordable price. The regulatory compliances and the adoption of cost-effective technologies have become major issues for organizations to survive in this competitive era. Although for most of the executives, the measures of success still remain the percentage of market share, increase in revenue, and brand equity, yet the imperative role of the human resource as success catalyst cannot be ignored. Organizations that manage their human resource intelligently and support employee engagement will be successful in sailing through and sustaining in the turbulent market conditions (Robinson et al., 2004).
Traditionally, many activities such as sports, games, and events were conducted to engage employees, but the concept of “employee engagement” goes much beyond and deeper than these.
This is because the expectations of employees have changed, and they keep looking for better opportunities rather than following the concept of “job for lifers” (Employee Engagement Survey, 2020). In the absence of an effective employee engagement strategy, retention of talent at all levels becomes difficult. Moreover, it has also been seen that organizations with employee-centric cultures are more successful in the long run.
The world has been witnessing a very bad phase with the spread of COVID-19. It has had a severe impact on the society, economy, and business worldwide. Owing to this situation of economic slowdown, it is a big challenge for the organizations to retain and engage their employees. The organizations which will be able to create a positive work environment during this time of crises will definitely win the loyalty and commitment of their workforce for the time to come. This article attempts to compile the various engagement strategies being adopted by the organizations, thus, emphasizing on its importance and further assisting the businesses to develop and design innovative policies and strategies to retain talent during this difficult time.
Rationale of the Study
This pandemic of COVID-19 has pushed this dynamic world to a halt along with devastating effects on the world economy. With frequent phases of lockdown, work from home (wfh) and physical distancing have become the new normal. This has further led to anxiety and stress in the minds of people in regard to their personal safety and job security. This has necessitated a transformation in the traditional employee engagement approaches to retain talented workforce and maintain their physical and psychological well-being so that they continue working with same effectiveness as during normal times.
It is a conceptual article based on an extensive literature review. Secondary data has been gathered from many different sources including already published research papers, articles, newsletters, and reports. The data already collected is organized to develop a new understanding related to traditional employee engagement practices and those adopted by organization in this time of widespread pandemic. Further, an elaborate and sequential literature review was done to relate employee engagement to well-being.
Employee Engagement and Its Definitions
Organizations have been trying to align their growth with organizational success as they have witnessed a change in employees from “being satisfied” to “being committed” (Avery et al., 2007). In practice, organizations typically define engagement as feeling related to the organization, being committed, taking pride in the organization, and making that extra effort beyond the described duty.
The term “engagement” can be used to denote psychological attributes of commitment, involvement, and attachment of an employee with his organization or the observable performance attributes including organizational citizenship behavior (Macey & Schneider, 2008). According to Wellins and Concelman (2005), engagement is an internal force that drives people towards higher level of performance. Harter et al. (2002) described employee engagement as “the individual’s involvement and satisfaction as well as enthusiasm for work.” This can be explained as ensuring the psychological presence of an employee along with his physical presence while performing his organizational roles. Engaged employees are the engine of passion who drive innovation and take the organization forward. Employee engagement can be described as a practice by which organizations try to enhance commitment and involvement of its employees in achieving greater outcomes (International Survey Research, 2003). After persistent long research on this construct, it was concluded that a large number of engaged employees in an organization will help in retaining and attracting talent, while an organization with disengaged employees suffers because of lower efficiency and productivity of its workforce (Gallup, 2005).
According to Towers Perrin talent report (2003), the factors that increase engagement among workforce are top management’s inclination towards employee’s well-being, challenging work, and the worker’s participation in decision-making. Corporate Leadership Council (2004) emphasized on commitment as a measure of engagement of employees with their organization: the efforts they put in their work and how long they stay with that organization. It is a favorable condition for the organization that implies involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, and focused energy that can be depicted in employee’s behavior as “say, stay and strive” (Hewitt Associates LLC, 2005).
So, engagement is a vital measure of an employee’s emotional and psychological connect with his organization. In the words of Brown (2006), engagement can be defined as a manifestation of motivation, commitment, and satisfaction that an employee experiences as he grows in an organization.
Shuck and Wollard (2010), in their study, identified four major dimensions under this construct which are depicted in Figure 1:
Figure 1.Four Major Dimensions of Employee Engagement as Identified by Shuck and Wollard
Recent researchers have identified yet new dimensions of engagement encompassing psyche of the individual employees to focusing on the action and investments the organizations make to promote engagement. Many researches and studies have explored a positive relation between employee engagement and job satisfaction (Garg et al., 2007).
Employee Engagement Strategies Adopted by Various Organizations
Today’s fast paced world leading to mobility and agility has changed the way employees used to look at their job. Now they are more enthusiastic about their work and look for more than just being paid. This makes employee engagement a must have for every growing organization. As we have discussed the concept of employee engagement, now any inquisitive reader would like to know what organizations do to retain their employees. There are some employee engagement strategies suggested by Jones and Kober (2019):
• Staying focused on the core values helps in engaging employees
• Supporting your employees so that they remain motivated to work
• Encourage employee feedback so that they share positivity and negativities freely
• Communicate openly and honestly with employees
• Employees commit themselves to the organization when the employer commits to employee engagement
The IT sector takes the lead when we talk about employee benefits, flexible work hours, learning and development, employee career, and succession planning. The tech companies are the most rewarding when it comes to fostering the engagement and commitment of employees (Dwivedi, 2020). Digitalization has changed the face of business; employees are more connected to each other and to their organization than ever before. So, companies have started capitalizing on their digital identity and social networking to promote overall value, good sentiments amongst employees, and team building activities. Organizations acknowledge the importance of employee retention and, hence, have started paying attention to “workers participation in management” where they can work and collaborate as a team, as the management believes voice of each and every member needs to be heard.
Apart from the IT sector, automobile sector, manufacturing plants of FMCG companies, and many educational organizations have also introduced employee engagement activities to promote team building and sense of belongingness towards their organizations. Many organizations have started team building exercises using board games such as Scrabble, Pictionary, Snakes & Ladder, and Ludo and many use Lego Building blocks to foster their child’s creativity and innovation. The following employee engagement activities shown in Figure 2 have been mentioned in an article by engage4more (2020).
Figure 2.Some Traditional Employee Engagement Strategies
Employee Engagement Strategies Adopted by Organizations During Turbulence (COVID-19)
COVID-19 appeared as a respiratory disease in Wuhan (Hubei province, China) suggested to be related to a seafood market there (Fan et al., 2020) and soon it engulfed the whole world in its tide. As per the recent report of World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 191,773,590 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally as on July 22, 2021. WHO has issued certain guidelines and recommendations for general public for protection against this fatal virus (World Health Organization [WHO], 2020). There are restrictions on international travels (Ghosh et al., 2020) along with other precautionary restrictions such as lockdown, social distancing, and wearing a face mask in public. As per the demand of the situation, many organizations started working online and granted wfh to its employees.
As the entire world is facing turbulence and instability, the management realizes that there is a great deal of pressure and distraction being faced by employees. With everyone at home and increased household chores, creating an organizational set up at home and coordinating live video rooms may seem to be a challenging task. The leadership roles have amplified when the entire team is remotely dispersed and under stress. Communication has become critical as the dependence on technology has increased many folds. The way leaders behave during tough times leaves an everlasting impact on the people (Tymchenko, 2020). In the absence of that personal empathetic touch and organic information flow, interaction through social media is the only option. Managing outcomes rather than inputs is the mantra for the day. The organizations have provided all necessary support to the workforce to ensure timely delivery of performance objectives.
It is a tough time, and things are hard but new age companies have definitely found a way out to engage their employees. Yes, now the engagement is technology driven. There are Zoom dance parties, family get together, kids’ competitions, online yoga and Zumba classes, webinars on health and safety, and grievance redressal online forums adopted by companies as a compassionate response to COVID-19 lockdown. In contrast to the conventional strategies, employees are engaged differently during this time of turbulence:
• Webinars to promote continuous learning and development
• Success story sharing sessions
• Mobile games and contests
• Spiritual and religious sessions
• Wellness meetups
• Virtual family get together
• Celebrating special occasions and festivities together
During this pandemic time, companies have been using different strategies such as team meetings, online games and contests, virtual competitions and contests, video lunch, online appreciation, and apology sessions to keep their workforce engaged (Goyal et al., 2020). Taking a yet closer look at our India Inc., top corporate employers such as TCS, Microsoft, Wipro Dabur, Flipkart, Axis Bank, Ola, Vedanta, Bank of Baroda, ITC, and BigBasket emphasized on saving human capital and promoting employees’ well-being. They have provided options such as doctor on call, online psychological counselling, meditation, and fitness programs.
During this time of crises, different top companies are trying to put their employees on priority by adopting different types of strategies (Bhattacharyya et al., 2020) which have been compiled in Table 1.
Table 1.Employee Engagement Strategies Followed During COVID-19
Impact of Employee Engagement Strategy on Employee Well-Being
Employee engagement is an important ingredient in the success of an individual as well the organization. An engaged employee is highly productive, holds less grievances, and delivers beyond expectations. In this time of uncertainty, when the entire human race is fighting COVID-19 clinically or mentally, it becomes even more important to build a psychological connect between the employer and employees to retain talent and win their loyalty for a long time. Employees feel motivated towards their work and committed towards their workplace when they are given growth opportunities and a culture of openness. Engaging employees helps in strengthening their creativity and inquisitiveness (Singh, 2020). It has been established that during this pandemic time when the workforce is physically dispersed, effort of the organization to communicate regularly with its workforce can act as a great stress-reliever. The organizations have started organizing different well-being exercises to promote engagement and performance of employees (Fan et al., 2020).
In a research conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on 12,000 professionals from the USA, Germany, and India to explore their attitudes towards well-being, social connect, productivity, job security, learning and development during this time of pandemic, a majority of respondents said that they were able to maintain or improve their productivity during crises. This survey suggests that with continued effort from the organizations in engaging and developing the employees, newer methods of remote working could also be continued post-COVID (Dahik et al., 2020).
A 5 C’s model comprising of conciliation, cultivation of new technologies, confidence, compensation, and communication has been proposed to strengthen engagement and build organizational health and well-being (De-la-Calle-Durán & Rodríguez-Sánchez, 2021).
This COVID-19 has brought the entire world to its knees, but with extensive technological support from the organizations and the emotional connect, the employees have been able to deliver beyond the set targets. A number of global tech companies have very active intranet and social media groups to enable employees share their success stories, funny incidences, and various team experiences to create a sense of belongingness and pride amongst employees and create a well-knit organizational culture (Dwivedi, 2020). A sense of loyalty and belongingness develops in the employees, and they start taking pride in being associated with a good humanitarian organization. It has been observed that organizations with highly engaged employees face less turnover and absenteeism. Employee engagement is definitely an approach that fosters business growth and advancement resulting from better performance, productivity, and well-being of employees (Chanana & Sangeeta, 2020). The organizations that have engaged their employees during this turbulent phase will definitely succeed in the long run as the satisfied employees will help the organization achieve its objectives and execute its strategy even after crises.
Implications of the Study
The role of an engaged employee in the success of any organization cannot be neglected, so they must adopt newer and innovative approaches to promote the well-being of employees and connect emotionally with their workforce. Further, more creative and advance strategies can be proposed to retain and maintain employees in this pandemic. This study can serve as a reference and guide to study employee engagement and propose new models and approaches to involve employees in organizational effectiveness and promoting an engaged culture.
Protecting and supporting the workforce along with the business in this evolving situation of COVID-19 requires great metamorphosis from traditional business practices to all technology-based interfaces. Whether or not organizations had a preplanned disaster management protocol, all are struggling to manage operations differently. So, it becomes really hard for leaders or managers to engage people who are at the heart of the business. Open communication policy and transparency in business practices can help relieve anxiety of the workforce and improve their well-being. Trust is incredibly important during this time of crises: trust that the employees are managing work to their best of their abilities and trust on the part of the employees that management is concerned about their safety and welfare like ever before. Rewarding and sharing success stories, whether small or big, not only amplifies commitment of the one rewarded but others also who are aspiring to achieve. More wellness initiatives by the employer to promote health and happiness of the people will definitely help each one of us to sail smoothly through this turbulent phase.
COVID-19 has deeply impacted all facets of life and also the way organizations used to manage their business and manpower. There is a renewed focus on mission, engagement, and employee well-being. Most of the organizations have reformatted their engagement strategies and are now offering some form of well-being assistance such as webinars with doctors, wellness check-in apps, promotion of mental and emotional well-being through yoga and Zumba sessions as well. Although engagement activities have been the top-most priority of many big conglomerates from time immemorial, it is comforting to see that even small business units are also meeting the challenges of this tough time with compassion and creativity. It is easier to sail forward with the current, but a successful leader is the one who sails ahead despite the opposing forces. An engaged employee has always contributed towards the organizational success, but how the companies treat them during uncertain times will definitely have a lasting impact for years to come.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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