Lessons from Listening during a Crisis

March 13th marked the 1-year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a national emergency in the United States and the beginning of a year of loss. The loss of human life, the loss of income that has yet to come back for far too many, the loss of human touch, and more than anything else, the loss of any sense of normalcy.

But amid all the loss we’ve experienced, there have been reasons to remain hopeful. The incredible advances in science over the past year, the increased awareness of the ties that connect us all, and perhaps most important, the courage we all found to carry on in spite of it all. Our 2020 engagement survey trends reflect this spirit of resiliency. The data shows that in some key areas, things have actually improved.   

As we reflect on this year of change and loss, let’s look at the positive gains organizations have made as they have grappled with the fallout of this pandemic:

Employees got clear on what mattered most. When things got difficult, organizations homed in on their true priorities and purpose. A total of 86% of employees reported being clear on their work priorities, a 5-point increase from 2019.

Leaders got serious about feedback. Working from home, wearing masks, and maintaining a 6-foot distance didn’t get in the way of managers providing employees the insights they needed to stay aligned and deliver results. Regular and specific manager feedback increased by 7 points to 71%. 

Connection became key. Managers maintained and strengthened their connection to their employees. In fact, 85% of employees stated they had a “great relationship” with their manager, up 6 points from 2019.

Executives found their voice. In times of uncertainty, we look to our leaders to define the challenges we face and to provide us with the reassurance that we can overcome them. In 2020, leaders did just that. A total of 65% of employees agreed that their executives were communicating effectively, up 12 points, the largest increase of any question in our database. 

Working conditions supported employee performance. In spite of all of the obstacles upending business as usual, employees were 8 points more likely to feel that their organization responded to their needs and created a high performing work environment.  

As we move forward, healing from the wounds of 2020 and hopeful for a new normal in 2021, let’s not lose sight of all this moment of adversity has taught us. How can we use these lessons to transform our organizations for the better going forward?

About the Authors

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Colleen Casey

When I was about 8 years old, I made the obligatory pilgrimage of every born and bred New Jersey native to the Thomas Edison museum. The other children and I pummeled our patient tour guide with innumerable questions (mostly pertaining to whether or not Mr. Edison had died on the premises). Upon learning that Mr. Edison had not received much in the way of a formal education, I inquired “But how was he so smart if he never went to school?!” The simple and astute response of the guide – “He asked a lot of questions.” My career in public opinion and employee polling has led me to do just that – ask a lot of questions in order to better understand how others see the world and what shapes those perceptions. In my current role, I use the insights that I gain from engagement surveys to help our client organizations better understand how their employees view their work, their leaders and the organization’s culture in order to enable them to implement meaningful change based on employee feedback. I feel that my time spent studying sociology and living in France provided me with a unique opportunity to see the world through a different lens and understand how culture informs the way we view ourselves, the world around us, and the institutions that shape us. These academic and personal experiences have been highly valuable to me in my career, heightening my sensitivity and awareness of the necessity to bring a unique approach to client measurement strategies, an approach that aligns with and reflects their unique organizational culture.