Jermaine Nairne, Employee Engagement and Culture Expert
A crucial survival tool during COVID-19 and beyond
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has ushered in an unprecedented work from home arrangement, has caused many organisations to re-examine their strategies for business continuity while keeping employees productive and engaged.
This balancing act is especially critical for many organisations to ensure their survival in this challenging time due to the economic downturn. Of equal concern is that working from home presents the potential risk of employees becoming demotivated and developing feelings of isolation and disconnect from their organisation.
Jason Black*, a Millennial who works in the media industry, said that he welcomes the opportunity to work from home. He is particularly pleased with the efforts of his employer to keep the synergy and communication going among employees, thereby eliminating feelings of isolation from his colleagues.
“We have our WhatsApp group where we discuss department-related information. Though I don’t see them a lot due to the flexible work schedule and staggered time for a lot of them, when I go in once per week I do get to see some faces. Also, virtual staff meetings, departmental meetings and staff training are held thanks to platforms, such as Zoom and CISCO Webex.”
The work from home experience is, however, slightly different for Rolando Williams*, a Generation X, who works as a university lecturer. He welcomes the work from home arrangement, but has some concerns about it.
“I miss the dynamism of the interaction I enjoy in the face-to-face setting. Working from home definitely brings some amount of estrangement, as the regular interaction and sharing to which we are accustomed are not there in the physical sense. They still occur online, but it’s not the same. I have not seen most of my colleagues since March. Though we have frequent online meetings, the meet and greet is not the same.”
He pointed out that his employer has taken many steps to engage him and his colleagues who are working from home.
“They have held general staff meetings involving the entire workforce, plus we have had several department meetings. We also have official WhatsApp chat groups plus established online platforms that we use every day. They send out daily bulletins, reminders and advisories. They hold regular webinars and one-to-one collaborations. They have also issued surveys to identify our tech needs and any support we need to effectively work from home,” he disclosed.
Diana Henry, a former guidance counsellor at a Corporate Area high school, who is now pursuing a master’s degree in forensic psychology at the Jamaica Theological Seminary, explained that the high levels of stress occurring from the drastic turn of events associated with the COVID-19 pandemic can influence low engagement by employees.
“It is essential to acknowledge that employees working from home might be struggling to feel engaged in performing normal work duties due to isolation from colleagues, family and friends. Working from home, being isolated and not socialising can affect employees’ psychologically, emotionally and mentally. They can develop mental health issues, such as depression, chronic mental stress, anxiety or panic attacks which can negatively affect their performance,” she said.
Henry emphasised that employers should be supportive and cultivate new approaches that create a connection with their employees that allow them to feel appreciated and respected, while making sure that they have the right equipment to work from home.
Similarly, Jermaine Nairne, manager, employee engagement and culture at The Jamaica National Group, underscores that employee engagement should be intentional to safeguard employees’ commitment to their workplace, thereby keeping businesses afloat.
“When employees are engaged, their discretionary effort is increased; this is an intangible benefit that no organisation can pay for,” Nairne asserts.
“These employee engagement activities go beyond one-off events, such as big staff meetings, and include other critical areas, such as employee safety and health; rewards and recognition; company policies, which drive the culture; effective internal communication; learning and development; compensation and benefits and so much more. In essence, companies have to recognise that the daily employee experience will shape their values, beliefs and attitudes toward the workplace and that will directly impact the organisation’s overall performance,” he pointed out.
Nairne recommends that businesses re-calibrate their strategies and outlook in light of their reduced face-to-face interaction with clients and employees and the inability to meet in person for meetings, team building, among other things.
“We have to examine all areas of engagement to see how, amid this crisis, they can be enriched. A central part of this engagement process is ensuring that the experience that is provided to the employee is one that shapes their values and beliefs in a positive way, so that they will want to go over and above what is required of them,” he opined.
Focus on Employees’ Mental Health
“Perhaps now, more than any other time, it’s important that management communicates with employees. In this time of uncertainty, where many employees are not having the kind of personal contact with colleagues and their supervisors as they used to, persons will become anxious and there is a need to allay those fears. Therefore, there has to be greater focus on the employees’ mental health,” he advised.
The human resource expert further encourages organisations to navigate the digital landscape to maintain social cohesion among employees.
“In the absence of physical fun days and celebration ceremonies, teams can have online parties, virtual reward and recognition fora, online games and online team challenges to ensure that this critical component of staff engagement is not lost. Team building activities must be deliberately scheduled and must emphasise those elements that demonstrate a level of empathy and effort to collaborate, as these mitigate the pressures of a crisis,” he advised.
He maintained: “The number one asset in an organisation is its employees, and they have to be empowered to navigate this crisis. If companies achieve this, it will result in better performance and that will ultimately lead to greater output and, of course, increased profitability.”
*Not his real name