Keeping employees engaged

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It’s a different kind of trend.

Many employees like working remotely, but not all of them do. For some, the isolation has made them feel forgotten and lonely. Some employees are finding a new type of burnout.

“Call it a pandemic of worker malaise,” reads an article by the Wall Street Journal. “Thanks to Covid-19 an increasing number of people feel disengaged from their jobs. Working from home, interacting via video, and worrying about our health and the economy are all taking a toll.”

More than a year into the pandemic, roughly six in 10 people are still working remotely, according to a new Gallup poll. The pandemic has taught many that they can be as productive, if not more so, working remotely. Others, who might find their home environment distracting or feel a disconnect from their colleagues, not so much. Gallup found that about half of those who work remotely have said the disruption to their routine has made their job harder to do. Some employees said their managers do not pay as much attention to them as they did pre-pandemic. Now, only four people in 10 say their employer communicates clearly with them and keeps them informed. The same number — only four in 10 — said they feel their employer cares about their wellbeing.

Diane Chretien, director of human resources at Obernel, headquartered in Minneapolis but which has offices across Minnesota and in North Dakota, said communication between management and staff is paramount to the company’s success.

“It’s No. 1,” she said. “Communication is everything and we work to continuously improve all aspects throughout our company.”

Prairie Business reached out to several companies to see how they help their employees stay connected at a time when the office setting, at least for some companies, might be a thing of the past. These leaders say besides communication, their companies have other routines and offerings in place that help with worker malaise.

The same questions were asked of three companies to see how similar or different their approaches might be:

What has the company done to help build competencies among employees during the pandemic, especially among those who may work remotely?

Angela Bolonchuk, director of human resources, JLG Architects, Grand Forks, N.D.

JLG Architects is no stranger to the virtual environment. Working virtually, we operated as one firm across 11 offices before the pandemic, regularly holding company-wide training sessions. We live an open book management philosophy and, as a 100% employee-owned firm, we meet twice a month to cover financial performance and a training topic to dive deeper into operations.

We held our strategic planning event virtually in 2020 to engage all employee-owners in constructing a united vision of JLG’s future. Onboarding processes and new staff mentoring were most impacted by the remote connection, and so we created more virtual onboarding sessions, social engagements, and tethered individuals together to establish deeper relationships.

Healthcare competencies are already prescriptive, so whether it’s a pandemic or not, we’ve continued our competency routine. However, we’ve prioritized some competencies, based on needs during the pandemic. For example, our amazing Environmental Services team accepted the challenge of ensuring our spaces were clean and disinfected as well as completing a special certification for health care EVS workers. With few exceptions, most of our workforce did not work from home, so this was not an issue for us.

The majority of our workforce has been working from home since March 2020. Our use of virtual meeting tools, especially Teams, has skyrocketed. Employees have adapted to the shift in communication style wonderfully. Our IT department has been instrumental in assisting everyone to a virtual work environment quickly and seamlessly. Our focus now, beginning in 2021, is to get back to helping employees learn, grow, and develop in their roles and define their career path.

Are there things the company has done to help reduce employee burnout during the pandemic? If so, what are some examples?

Angela Bolonchuk, JLG Architects

JLG Architects offers a flexible work environment; however, during the pandemic we encouraged employees to work outside our normal core hours to provide additional work-life balance. We held “A Breath of Fresh Air” 50-day event to celebrate Earth Day by focusing on health, wellness, and resilience through daily emails, suggested activities, and events. Also during the pandemic, we leveraged our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for training and social engagements, as well as asked a JLGer to a virtual yoga session. Regular communication to ease staff’s mind on the status of the firm, managing workload closely, and promoting regular check-ins were also key components to our strategy.

Mike Delfs, Jamestown Regional Medical Center

Yes, several. We facilitated morale boosters including opportunities to recognize and reward teammates for legendary work. One example is the employee care kits. Employees nominated each other for going above and beyond. As recognition, we delivered care kits which included treats, chapsticks, lotions and other items of comfort.

Our Employee Engagement Committee sponsored several special treats, including popcorn in the cafeteria and beverages in the hospital coffee shop.

Our chaplain filmed prayers which we shared to the employee intranet. She also offered private counselling sessions by appointment.

Employees could apply for monetary assistance from the Employee Support Fund. This fund offers grants of up to $250 to help our teammates through times of hardship including illness, emergencies, etc.

Even though it’s no longer mandatory, JRMC continues to offer 10 days of sick time if an employee is diagnosed with COVID (this originated from the Family First Coronavirus Response Act).

Diane Chretien, Obernel

We have a flexible work environment and have encouraged employees to unplug and walk away from their computers as needed and at the end of the workday. This has been especially challenging when working from home and your temporary workstation is set up in the living room. It is easy to be drawn back in to do one more task or respond to one more email. Early on in the pandemic we developed two new pages on our intranet for employees to use. One with videos, articles, and other resources for personal development and mental health support. The other was a page specific to the COVID pandemic with communications and information about our response to the situation.

What role does communication play in making sure employees feel like they are part of a team environment and their work is noticed?

Angela Bolonchuk, JLG Architects

Communication supplies a high level of understanding of where the firm is going for all leaders to rally around. This clear vision is the guidepost for making decisions in our daily work. To gain that clarity, it takes consistent, clear communication. It also requires listening to understand where individuals are at and what needs communicating. When leaders are not in alignment, or are not hearing employees’ voices, the work environment breaks down, is disjointed, and does not foster a team environment.

Mike Delfs, Jamestown Regional Medical Center

Communication is the most important role we have, because of the crisis. We identified the value of communication early on, which is why a public information officer sits on the incident command team. It’s important to know though, that communication and investing in good culture is just as important before a crisis as it is during. The way we communicated during the pandemic was similar to how we communicated before, simply modified.

Examples: Wins! We begin every meeting with communicating what’s going well. Employees can also submit wins to the Win Bin on our Employee Intranet.

Quarterly forums: like meetings, we begin these with a win. Because of the pandemic, we made these meetings virtual.

Thank you cards, Difference Leaves: employees can thank each other or anyone (patients, visitors, vendors) with JRMC-branded thank you cards and Difference Leaves. These are available at any time and employees are encouraged to use their work time to complete them. Inspiring gratitude is an effective way to reward and recognize exceptional work.

Ask Admin: employees can anonymously ask questions or post concerns to our employee intranet site.

Diane Chretien, Obernel

It’s No. 1, it’s huge. Communication is everything and we work to continuously improve all aspects throughout our company. We are working with managers to have richer, deeper conversations with their direct reports. These check-in conversations happen three times per year and are focused on the employees’ wellbeing and development. We want employees to feel empowered to speak up for themselves and trust that their manager will hear them. The check-in is also an opportunity for managers to recognize employees for their accomplishments.

What resources does the company offer for employees who may be struggling emotionally because of the pandemic or for other reasons?

Angela Bolonchuk, JLG Architects

We offered our Employee Assistance Program, well-being seminars, workplace flexibility, and the FFCRA benefits. We engaged our career advisors in regular employee check-ins and held virtual social events to bring employees together. Uncertainty can be emotionally challenging for individuals, and so we held frequent communication to support business continuity and provide business updates to reassure JLGers. As a well-run business we focused to sustain our firm without layoffs or furloughs, and leveraged employee bandwidth toward strategic initiatives. This past year has impacted JLGers very deeply. We consider ourselves a family and pull together to support individuals when they are struggling. We shift workload to ensure employees can focus on what is important – themselves and their family – and to take time for restoration.

Mike Delfs, Jamestown Regional Medical Center

As mentioned before, we offer the Employee Support Fund, 10 days of sick time if diagnosed with COVID (family first act), and chaplaincy services. In addition, we partner with The Village for Family Services Center to offer counselling services to employees at no cost to them.

Diane Chretien, Obernel

We strive to support employees at all times, beyond the pandemic, by offering flexible work hours, an employee assistance program covering counseling sessions, and paid time off.

What is something you’d like your employees to know about HR that might be overlooked?

Angela Bolonchuk, JLG Architects

Often HR is viewed as the rulemakers or paper pushers – when, in fact, we serve both the employee and the employer. We truly care about our JLGers, their mental health, families, success, passion, and goals. We are a strategic partner to aid them in living out their best selves while pushing our firm to also live into its greatness. It is a complicated middle ground that requires empathy.

Mike Delfs, Jamestown Regional Medical Center

HR played an important role during this pandemic. The department continued its current functions including payroll, hiring, terminating, etc., PLUS the team took on the challenging tasks of supporting employees and departments through unexpected and extended illnesses. We are grateful for them.

Diane Chretien, Obernel

We are not solely focused on recruitment and benefits, policies and procedures. We exist to partner with business leaders to help move the company forward for the future. We are experts on talent management and organizational development, and should be seen as a valuable resource for business leaders, managers, and employees alike.