Back | 8 July 2021

Employee engagement in COVID times: how to reconnect with your people

Are you thinking about how to bring your teams together again after this enforced period of isolation and remote working?  Understanding the science behind how we learn and absorb information is critical to inspiring and motivating your people, and makes it easier to plan and design engagement programmes that really work.

Bringing employees together to share information, connect, motivate and celebrate success should be standard practice for any organisation that values its workforce.  It is by far the most powerful way to engage and motivate your people, allowing them to feel part of a community that is working towards a common goal.

Of all the effective ways to do this, a virtual employee engagement programme may seem like the hardest to pull off.  Without the human, ‘in real life’ interaction, how can you really hope to reach your people with the right messages, at the right time, with the right sentiment?

This has never been more important than right now, as organisations are slowly emerging from several long months of enforced remote working.  The benefits arising from the pandemic around flexible working and work/life balance are not in doubt and for many of us, a “return to normal” is inconceivable.  But this poses a whole new challenge for organisations and their internal communications strategies, both in the short-term and long-term.

Here comes the science bit

It’s been a tough year for all workforces, regardless of industry, sector or position.  A recent survey by McKinsey revealed that 49% of employees feel burnt out.  Many companies are rightly worried about the mental health of their employees.  But why do we feel like this?

Neuroscience tells us that when we feel under attack (as we have felt during COVID) our brains initially go into ‘hyper drive’, making us more alert.  But this isn’t something we can tolerate or sustain for long periods.  Eventually, we become overwhelmed, and it leads to something many of us have been experiencing – brain fog.

All of this is driven by the amygdalathe part of our brain where emotions and experiences are given meaning.  When we want to learn new things, the amygdala must be stimulatedIt responds to surprise, interest, attraction and motivation.  When we live a repetitive existence, as we have been since last March, our ability to consume and retain information is severely restricted.

What does this have to do with employee engagement?

Understanding this fundamental function of the human brain can help organisations to plan virtual employee engagement activities that break the cycle and are genuinely effective.  The techniques needed to motivate and inspire employees must be reimagined and adapted – a series of PowerPoint presentations won’t cut it anymore.  But if it’s new and exciting, our brains want to examine it, to see how it might benefit or reward us.

It comes down to this: To capture and maintain people’s attention, an employee engagement strategy needs to respond to the brain’s desire for experiences that encourage, reinforce and reward. In other words, any virtual employee event needs to be designed for how people’s brains actually learn.

Check out my 10 practical tips for how to do this in my next blog post.


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