Burning questions from ‘Employee Engagement and Wellbeing in a Covid-19 world’ Learn and Share event
We were delighted to hear speakers from Birkbeck University, the University of Bradford and London South Bank University share their experience of managing engagement and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was a wonderful session with some great questions submitted by our audience. We’ve shared responses to your questions here.
- How can we best support staff wellbeing and at the same time maintain organisational performance in challenging circumstances?
People Insight: Defining exactly what this support looks like will need a lot of space (and time), but the key aspect is to help people support each other and provide enabling structures and processes. Birkbeck University’s IGLOo model provides a really robust framework for putting this support in place. Most HEIs are too large to try and provide all the support solutions from the centre, so local support is essential. Involve schools and faculty teams and set up quick reporting mechanisms to check support is reaching the people who really need it and can benefit. Returning to campus after lockdown will bring its own challenges; involve employees in shaping what your new workplace looks like and help them see opportunities to adapt the way they work to their individual experiences and needs.
2. How can you best support staff who are extremely worried about the virus and therefore this is affecting their engagement and performance?
PI: This comes down to communication. The first thing is to be honest and tell it like it is. Your organisation will not be able to remove everyone’s fears and some staff, for example, may feel a return to work is too risky. A good predictor of engagement in the current situation is a sound performance management process used by well-trained managers, in a well lead organisation. The key is to use this process to tackle individual fears and discover how the individual can best perform. Engagement will follow if this process is used carefully and with sensitivity.
3. How in the current context do we maintain and enhance our employees’ sense of belonging?
Adnan Bajwa, LSBU: Most of our staff are local to LSBU, so they understand the socio-economic barriers and our group’s vision to tackle these. I think that when staff understand your vision and the part they play in it, they’ll have that sense of sharing the same ambition and belonging. We also run events that keep people connected to our vision, for example our staff awards and staff conference align to our values and strategy and showcase how staff are achieving against the group vision. For me it’s always about how you’re led, so particularly during the pandemic our leaders have been very visible to employees and we’ve ensured that we act consistently with our vision in how we respond and treat people.
4. How often should our director reach out to the full team via email during this period of WFH?
PI: Consensus from our speakers is for a weekly email update from your director/VC – as we heard from the University of Bradford, this is something that employees know to expect in their inbox and that’s accessible to all. The start of the pandemic taught us that people welcome regular comms when guidance or updates are changing rapidly – so when you’re getting people ready for returning to work (in whatever form this takes), consider more frequent updates from your leaders to keep people informed and reassured.
5. An important part of engagement is having a shared strategic direction that everyone understands their role in. With so much uncertainty, what do we need to be doing to ensure our direction is something people feel a part of?
AB: Align your processes and your strategy. Review your annual strategy/roadmap and ensure this includes engagement; look at how your appraisal objectives support this and focus on engaging the hearts & minds of your people with a compelling vision (for example, ours is positively impacting a million lives in south London). Leaders are key to translating this vision into reality so enable them to engage teams – things like developing local roadmaps, holding team engagement days and tying this all into staff conferences and forums that continue the conversation.
PI: Listen to colleagues and their emotions in a non-judgmental way. Look at the macro level and reflect on the strategy, do we need to adjust our strategy, do we need to look at the skills of employees and how we can use them to best effect in this new normal? Share the problem and involve staff in finding a solution – thinking about new ways of working and creating a shared strategy. People need to feel they have a role to play that’s important, unique and valuable.
6. How can we support academics to achieve a good sense of wellbeing when workload is going to be higher than ever as we prepare for a very different start to the academic year, and the one thing we can’t do is take work away from them?
Dr Rachel Lewis, Birkbeck University: My suggestion would be to think of the solution from the basis of the IGLOo levels. So what can we do to support them at the:
Individual level – for instance encouraging staff to take breaks, have work life balance, switch off, use time management skills, mental health awareness, coping/cognitive/resilience skills.
Group level – for instance encouraging a more collegiate approach where colleagues and academics support and cover for each other more and utilise social support.
Leadership level – for instance leaders taking an individual approach, enabling flexibility and output focus, recognising and showing concern for the individual circumstances, behaving with integrity and fostering group cohesion.
Organisational level – for instance your return to work process, your overarching wellbeing strategy (for staff not just students), focusing on job design (for instance reducing administration, providing more autonomy, considering ways to increase social support amongst academics) and considering more flexible working arrangements such as job share.
Missed the event? Watch the replay here.
Still got a question? Contact Jane Tidswell to discuss your engagement or wellbeing challenges.
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