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In our autumn 2020 UK Reward Management Survey, employers reported stronger levels of engagement in their pulse surveys as a direct response to the crisis communication strategies they rolled out during the pandemic.

As restrictions continue to operate, businesses of all sizes are considering the long-term impact on the mental health of their employees. It is important to ensure your communications plan is able to deal with the ongoing impact of the pandemic and address employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Here we outline top tips for employers to drive employee engagement over the winter period through a strong communications strategy.

Setting the tone

At the height of the coronavirus crisis when the country entered its first lockdown in March, each employer found out whether their crisis plan stood up to the effects of the virus. Many employers reported really good levels of crisis communications, culminating in some employers achieving their highest employee engagement figures in pulse surveys conducted at this time.

As employees were being affected at a very human level, remote working was rolled out overnight for many, whilst others on the frontline faced the challenges to society posed by the virus first-hand. Initially strong communications plans, including CEO weekly briefings and virtual Town Hall Q&A type events, were greatly appreciated during this period. 60 per cent of respondents to our UK Reward Management Survey reported that the pandemic had increased awareness around employee mental health and generated additional support and communication over this period.

Communications overload

Many employers are cautious about the risk of generating communications fatigue as the restrictions continue. Communications must show employers genuinely care about the challenges employees are facing. Without this authenticity and openness, this will be remembered beyond the crisis – signaling to employees that the communications were a tick-boxing exercise as opposed to an opportunity to really connect and offer valid help.

Key to this is having a responsive team dedicated to strong communications that can react quickly to the situation and adapt the appropriate communications to keep in step with unfolding events. Scheduling communications is often helpful to manage workloads, but make sure that these are reviewed and edited before they are published, to avoid sharing information that is behind the curve, comes across as flippant or is ill-timed in changing circumstances. Remembering this is a two-way street is an important aspect of a strong communications plan, with many putting in place information-sharing platforms and thanking employees for coming forward with updates.

Great expectations

Many employers have felt they hit the right balance with the level of communications they have offered and are considering how to keep that level up. For them, the key challenge is that employees have become reliant on top-level, strong and transparent communications that need to be sustained. People are at the heart of everything – by showing compassion and using communications to engage with employees beyond simply ‘broadcasting’, your communications strategy becomes a critical engagement tool that must be prioritised.

Remember that this strengthens your trusted role as an employer. Employees feel comfortable using you as an authoritative source of updates around the situation as it continues to evolve. As employees use your updates to communicate externally to friends, family, clients and contacts, it is important to recognise that this in itself shows that the organisation is a caring employer providing them with information they can respect and believe. This drives employee engagement and makes people feel connected to the organization, as a valued employee.

Long-term impact on wellbeing

In our autumn survey, 90 per cent of respondents have strategies in place to tackle mental health and wellbeing. Whilst many are dealing with it now, some are fearful of the impact further down the line. Morale and wellbeing could drift if employees increasingly feel isolated or cut off from their workplace or co-workers. Similarly, negativity and anxiety can go up over a sustained period of turbulence and uncertainty.

94 per cent of respondents used communications from senior management as a key tool to ensure that employees feel supported. As the nights have drawn in, employers are alert to the possibility that there will be more disengagement towards the end of the year, in stark contrast to the good weather that could at least provide a more buoyant background to lift spirits and morale during the first lockdown. Maintaining visible manager support and top-level communication is seen as crucial to drive sustained employee engagement.

Tools to drive engagement

As part of creative ways to communicate the value organisations place on their staff, tools such as Total Reward Statements can demonstrate the investment and opportunity that employers offer each individual. Reward statements outline the full value of what the employee has received from their employer over a set period of time – both tangible (e.g. pay, bonus schemes and benefits) and intangible (e.g. learning and development opportunities, holiday entitlement).

This is a proven way of objectively outlining how employers are engaging with employees, especially at a time of constrained pay increases and when 39 per cent have already made redundancies. There is an even greater need for these tools if employers are not doing anything on the pay side. With 24 per cent operating a pay freeze, Total Reward Statements show investment in other areas such as benefits and reinforce the value employers offer at a time of instability.

Long road ahead

As there is talk of restrictions and tiers across England and Wales operating until Easter 2021, it is important to bear in mind that people are growing weary of the toll the restrictions have taken on our normal way of life. As many remote workers feel more and more isolated from work colleagues, people are separated from their loved ones outside of work and frontline workers continue to operate under strict safety measures, employers must ensure that they remain alert to the growing impact on employee morale.

Remain agile and united

Employers need to closely monitor their engagement strategies, renewing and adapting their approach to motivate people. Tell people what you can to the best of your knowledge and continue to keep them up to date. Even if there is nothing new that can be said about the situation, this is important. This reinforces that you are on top of the situation and there is a plan in place – increasing the trust employees place in you as an employer. It is also worth reviewing who is advising on the communications – a team drawn from different functions across the company including HR, leadership, communications, health and safety and legal can ensure that the organisation is providing a rounded, united response.

Top tips to refresh your communications

In summary, in order to keep the momentum behind communications over the winter:

  1. Communicate any updates early – reassure staff that you are closely monitoring the situation and outline the measures you’re taking to keep staff and key stakeholders safe
  2. Provide regular updates – being open about where this information is coming from is helpful context to win trust from employees
  3. Be transparent – outline what you know and what you do not know at this stage to remain credible
  4. Be succinct – keep the messages and language simple to avoid confusion and increase readership
  5. Be creative – think of the positives that you can emphasise in the message and how a negative can be turned into a positive for employees

Get in touch

A compassionate approach will be the key to setting the right tone at a busy time for organisations tackling important communications challenges. Call us today to discuss how you can put in place a strong communications plan and drive employee engagement over the coming months.

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