How senior leaders can build better engagement

Renato Profico ponders on the new ways of working and encourages leaders to keep up regular communication to their people to ensure their wellbeing and motivation.

As the world continues to become accustomed to living with COVID-19, there’s one question on everybody’s mind – exactly how long will this pandemic last?

Unfortunately, this question may lay unanswered for quite some time. Researchers have concluded that forecasts beyond four weeks are either inaccurate or have such a wide range of possible outcomes that they’re useless for decision-making.

Before the global pandemic, organisations were already dealing with a plague of their own – the ongoing fight for employee retention.

Long gone are the days where graduates would find a job after college and stay there. In today’s fast-paced society, employees tend to look for the next challenge rather than looking for stability within an organisation.

And we all know that a disengaged workforce has a huge impact on businesses. According to Deloitte’s Talent Edge 2020 report, more than four in ten executives rated competing for global talent as one of their most pressing concerns.

So what does the lack of outlook mean for senior leaders, as they continue in their quest to attract and retain talent while navigating this unique moment in history?

30% of the respondents in recent research stated that their boss is now less accessible than before the pandemic.

Ensuring your workforce remains engaged at work (while dealing with the added fears and stresses of the pandemic) is simultaneously more difficult and more important than ever. And if you’re planning for 2021, the only thing certain is that remote working will continue to become the norm.

On top of all this uncertainty, recent research1 has found that mentorship and coaching have been severely lacking – just when employees need support the most. While findings like these disappointing, this also as an opportunity to rethink employee engagement strategies and empower employees to become better equipped moving into the New Year.

Here are a few best practices to help build an employee engagement strategy that is both adaptable to change and sensitive to the challenges your employees are currently facing.

Avoid toxic positivity, dial up the empathy

‘Keep your head up!’

‘It will all be okay!’

‘It could be worse!’

The negative impact of toxic positivity and dismissive statements like the ones listed above is real. This shouldn’t be ignored in the workplace. Make sure your employees feel safe to voice their struggles so that they don’t sink deeper into a funk.

There is nothing wrong with being positive, but it’s important to find the right mix between positivity and empathy when engaging with your employees. There may be some seriously complex situations amongst your workforce – such as burnout, reduced family incomes and the illnesses of loved ones. And the reality is that they might not always feel comfortable sharing this information with their managers.


Organisations can create internal initiatives that promote transparency and support for employees struggling with mental health. Communicating that there are no concerns about seeking help and it’s okay to not be okay, is the first step to helping those suffering feel less lonely and ashamed.

Extra emotional support can also be offered through an employee wellbeing programme (if you don’t already have one), which is proven to increase employee engagement and increased organisational performance.

Build a culture of mentorship and increase 1:1 meetings

Information exchange and spontaneous collaboration are unfortunately affected by the physical distancing of employees. And when you combine this barrier with side effects from isolation and pandemic-related anxiety, the need for guidance and connection from managers has never been greater.

In fact, 30% of the respondents in recent research stated that their boss is now less accessible than before the pandemic. This is particularly concerning. If employees aren’t able to connect with managers regularly, the lack of direction will ultimately impact their motivation, performance and job satisfaction.

The case for one-to-one meetings is clear. According to Gallup, employees who have regular meetings with managers are three times more likely to be engaged. And when asked for the most desired characteristics of managers, most people state traits, such as expressing interest in team members’ wellbeing and mentorship.

Work life during the pandemic has presented an opportunity for managers to rethink how they handle their 1:1s and the impact of these meetings on their role as a mentor, to keep employees engaged and satisfied at work.

These meetings should stay laser-focused and personalised to help both parties set clear expectations and build mutual trust. Research shows that active mentorship helps employees feel more satisfied in their roles and more aligned to the organisation – it’s arguably the best way to keep your workforce engaged.

Increased meetings can also be extremely valuable for management to check in regularly with the wider team and gauge how they’re feeling moving into the second year of the pandemic. 

Consider remote work options – indefinitely

From a survey of more than 800 US-based employees, McKinsey  found that employees who work remotely are more engaged and have a stronger sense of well-being than those with little flexibility.

Since remote working became the norm, many leaders are now realising that any assumptions about reduced collaboration and employee output aren’t necessarily the reality.

Many organisations have surprisingly found that productivity has actually increased during the pandemic; 75% of the employees surveyed by Boston Consulting Group said that they have been able to maintain or improve productivity on individual tasks. At Doodle, we’ve seen similar results with high productivity levels and increased engagement (albeit digitally) amongst our teams.

Increased meetings can also be extremely valuable for management to check in regularly with the wider team and gauge how they’re feeling moving into the second year of the pandemic.

The reasons why employees feel more productive and engaged while working from home varies. Some appreciate the lack of distractions or time that is given back from no longer having to commute. Others – working mothers, in particular – are busy juggling their careers with the demands of having a family.

Whatever the reason may be, imagine how remote work could impact employees’ productivity and satisfaction once pandemic-related fear and stress are removed from their lives?

Remote work is not a viable option for all businesses and all employees – there is still a strong case for real-life communication and collaboration. Companies that previously had limited work-from-home policies should be encouraged to reconsider them post-pandemic, for at least a portion of employees’ time spent at work.

Respect your employees’ personal time

Remember the daily commute into the office? What once was a daily battle of traffic and transportation, now looks more like a sleepy shuffle from one pair of comfy pants to the other.

Unfortunately, the boundaries between employees’ work time and personal time are no longer simply blurred. In 2020, they have been completely erased. A mid-year survey from FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA) reported that 75% of workers have experienced burnout in 2020, attributing longer hours being worked at home as a major factor.

This is both disturbing and disappointing. There should be no reason to state the obvious when it comes to the topic of work-life balance. Yes, we’re always at home right now. No, that doesn’t make extended work hours okay.



About the author

Renato Profico is CEO of Doodle


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