At the onset of this pandemic, it was immediately clear that the employer/employee relationship would be changing. But it was equally clear that definitive answers on what organizations could do to meaningfully help and improve this entirely new employee experience were few and far between. As a researcher, it was particularly painful for me to acknowledge that in some ways all of the effort and research organizations had done to date to improve the employee experience just might not be as relevant in this fundamentally changed world.
Like so many others, at my organization, we weren’t sure at the time what the future – short and long-term – would look like, but we knew we wanted to help as many people in whatever way we could. And that’s why we initiated our own research project to better understand the impact of the pandemic on workers. Specifically, we wanted to better understand their needs in this unprecedented time and we wanted to offer advice to organizations on the specific actions they can take to help improve the entirely new experiences many of their employees are living in today.
We collected feedback from 500 employed workers who ensured a nationally representative sample for age and gender as well as a variety of industries, roles, and levels within mid- to large-sized organizations. They were coping with a variety of sudden and significant changes as a result of the pandemic, including working from home, adjusted work schedules, and other variables. In our analysis, we evaluated various segments to ensure we captured as many perspectives as possible; however, we were surprised to find that our sample had far more in common than different on a variety of important topics.
Employees Are Navigating Complex Emotions but Indicate Resiliency
This crisis represents a defining moment in the employee experience and paying attention to and supporting the emotional health and wellbeing of your employees should be considered a critical need. Our research-validated that the separation between work and personal life isn’t just blurred – it’s non-existent right now. This sudden adjustment is significantly impacting employee emotional states and we saw a variety of emotions expressed.
Yet, what stood out to us the most were existing levels of resiliency and optimism that came through among respondents. There is acceptance of the challenging times we’re facing and the negative impact we’ve experienced to date but also realism about uncertainty in the future and positivity about an eventual recovery. These attitudes are cornerstones of resiliency and were exciting to see come through in the research.
Physical Health of Community, Family, Self, Top List of Fears
When we delved into the fears and concerns expressed by respondents the health and emotional wellbeing of their communities were of most concern to people, above even the physical health of their own families and themselves. Of less concern were financial needs, such as potential job loss and the ability to provide for their families and pay bills.
Despite the inherent risk workers take when reporting to co-located facilities, little distinction was present when comparing the fears and concerns they express with those of workers who were working from home.
Top Needs Are Connection, Stronger Communication, and Increased Recognition
Based on the needs expressed by respondents, it became clear that three key themes were consistent: connection, communication, and recognition.
Workers of all types are seeking emotional connection during this vulnerable time and are expressing a need for transparent, authentic and timely communication from their leaders to help foster those connections. They’re seeking this support from both direct leaders as well as higher-level leaders in the organization.
In our analysis, a respondent’s level within the organization was a particularly affecting variable, indicating that employees outside of high-level leadership roles feel the greatest sense of disconnect and lack of alignment and support from the organization.
The final need that was clearly expressed was improved acknowledgment of personal contribution at the individual level. This experience is emotionally impacting employees and eliciting concerns about personal value, acceptability of their own productivity and driving them to compare themselves to others who may not be dealing with similar circumstances. As a result, people are craving individual acknowledgment of their contribution to alleviate those fears.
This need goes beyond just recognition, though. In addition to a need for recognition and appreciation, it encompasses the need to know they personally contribute to the organization and validation of the need for their opinion.
By providing this positive reinforcement, organizations can support and further nurture the emotions of resiliency, positivity, and motivation we previously discussed and which will be critical to sustained organizational success for the duration of this pandemic.
The Impact of This Research on the Future of Employee Experience
While many unknowns remain regarding the recovery and long-term implications of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is certain: how employers have responded will represent a defining moment in the employee experience for each of their workers.
It can be difficult to ask your people how they are feeling and what they need from you – and even harder to know what to do with their feedback. But by asking people to share these raw emotions with us, we’ve found both sources of optimism and opportunity.
The good news here is that people are already leaning into the attitudes and emotions that are key to resiliency and, ultimately, a successful recovery for organizational operations. They are largely expressing gratitude, maintaining positivity, and remaining realistic – without being fatalistic – about what the future may hold.
Despite widely varied experiences, there is a notable degree of consistency in our findings across segments that underscores the importance of focusing on meeting fundamental human needs like connection and empowerment to support the strong, resilient behaviors we’ve already seen take root.
Their honesty and candor have illuminated the continued need to support all facets of your employee’s experience. Physical health, safety and comfort have commanded our attention due to the nature of this crisis and employees have been largely satisfied with those efforts. But they’re looking for more acknowledgment, inspiration and clearer and more authentic communication from leaders to help sustain them during this trying time. And that, while tough to hear, is the most important takeaway that we hope all organizations carry forward into the future of their employee experiences in a post-pandemic world.