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How to create employee engagement in times of crisis

February 1, 2022
By Melissa Dawn

employee speaks to colleague over zoom Photo by name Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

A key pandemic lesson is that it isn’t just viruses that spread. It’s also mindset. Fear, anxiety, worry, distrust… they spread through our social fabric. At the same time, we experienced a sudden shift to remote work.

The result? People feeling disengaged and isolated. That’s led to common challenges among teams and organizations:

  • People not knowing what to do
  • Communication struggles
  • Distribution of workload
  • Motivation and productivity
  • Self-management (not always from lack of skill, but because we’ve never had to do it in such isolation before)
  • Effective collaboration

It all comes down to engagement. But, the way we drove engagement in the past, may not work today. We need to rethink it, focusing on what’s needed now, and what we hope for in the future.

To combat isolation and drive engagement, it’s critical to create alignment through shared purpose, and to ensure that alignment is happening at the levels of the self, others and community.

Engagement Through Shared Purpose

The pandemic is on everyone’s minds right now. Embrace that. Ask yourself:

  • “What is my team’s role within the organization right now?”
  • “What is my role for my team right now?”
  • “What is my team’s role for each other right now?”

This is where you’ll find your shared purpose. It’s about…

  • How your team’s contribution is supporting the organization through pandemic;
  • How the team’s contribution is creating a better future for the organization;
  • How you will support your team in bringing this contribution forward;
  • How team members can support each other.

Engagement Through the Self

As a leader, your mindset has even greater potential to spread.

Ask yourself, “What scares me right now? What angers me?”

What you can’t be with, runs your life. If you aren’t addressing what you’re feeling, that will influence your team in negative ways.

Get real with yourself. Consider what success looked like for you pre-covid, vs. what it looks like now. How is that impacting you? What expectations might you need to shift?

There’s a tendency, as leaders, to think we need to put on a brave face. The problem is, the well being of those around us is directly impacted by our well being. If you’re struggling silently, people will sense a wall around you and that hinders engagement. When you deal with your struggles - or, even better, open up about them - you become more human to the people you lead, opening up pathways for engagement.

Engagement With Others

Struggling in silence leads to isolation. Isolation kills engagement. The one thing we know with certainty right now is that everyone is struggling in some way. Make it your mission to break through the silence.

That means:

  1. Setting the example by sharing your truth;
  2. Asking better questions;
  3. Really listening.

Don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Ask people:

  • “What do you need right now?”
  • “What does that look like for you?”
  • “How are your challenges different now vs. pre-covid?”
  • “What does success look like for you now vs. pre-covid?”
  • “What worries you?”
  • “What do you feel hopeful about?”
  • “What would make things easier for you?”
  • “What skills do you have that you want to bring forward?”

Get curious and really listen. Assure people that what they’re feeling is human and acceptable. It is all welcome. People need to know they are accepted far more than they need solutions.

Guide people to see or discover how their strengths and passions align with team and corporate goals in the short term, and long term. Showing people how they belong within the big picture is a powerful antidote to isolation and driver of engagement.

Engagement Through Community

Perhaps the greatest benefit of a shared purpose is the sense of community it creates. Even pre-pandemic, feelings of not-belonging were an issue in many organizations. At a time when we’re forced to rethink how we do things, we have the opportunity to make community a priority in workplace cultures.

Get clear on corporate values, or create a set of core values for your team. Draft a purpose statement as well; something that embodies your team’s role within the organization.

Make values and purpose something you live. Discuss them at meetings. Ask people to share how their personal values align with team values, and how they feel their work aligns with the team’s purpose. Encourage them to share when they notice those values and purpose in others. Have it start with you - recognition from leadership is deeply meaningful - and make it a practice of your team, so that they develop the habit of supporting each other as human beings.


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image of Melissa Dawn

About Melissa Dawn 

Melissa is a renowned speaker and Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Certified Team Performance Coach (CTPC), and Conscious Business Coach. She holds a BComm, is a contributor to the Huffington Post, Thrive Global and Entrepreneur and is regularly featured on top podcasts, radio and television programs. She is the author of the bestselling book, I Attract What I Am, and was named one of Hubspot’s Best Coaching Services worldwide for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

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