Engagement in a Post-COVID World
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My son was recently engaged to a wonderful woman, which got me thinking about engagement and what it means to be engaged.

A marital engagement is defined as “a commitment or pledge to bind yourself to another”.  It isn’t an engagement unless both parties say yes to the other. My son had to choose her; she had to choose him; it was a two-way, mutual decision to commit to each other.

Employee engagement is a big topic in the world of work, and the post-COVID world has made it harder to fully engage with others because of hybrid work schedules, virtual meetings, and rarely, if ever being physically present with colleagues. According to The Gallup Organization, employee engagement in the U.S. has declined over the past several years- from 36% in 2020, 34% in 2021 and 32% in 2022; with active disengagement increasing 4% since 2020. The groups that experienced the biggest drop in engagement are those under 35, women, healthcare workers, project managers, and remote-ready workers working fully on-site.

Gallup defines employee engagement as the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace which produces better business outcomes. This is the goal or ideal. In reality, employment engagement efforts often look like this:

  • Employees evaluate their level of engagement through anonymous surveys – whether their needs are getting met for clear expectations, opportunities to develop, learn and grow, and if they feel cared about. They generally aren’t asked to evaluate their own contributions and accountability for a two-way relationship – how they seek clear expectations and growth, and if they care about the company.
  • Employers respond to survey data by implementing programs and incentives to address engagement “issues”, rather than fostering ongoing coaching and two-way communication at all levels to ensure buy-in and commitment. It often seems like a top-down approach in which employees are not required to be equal partners in the relationship.

Unless both parties invest in and are accountable for the success of the relationship, the relationship will fail. In this case, the failure will be lack of productivity, customer needs not getting met, employees leaving or getting fired.  

True engagement requires noticeable choice and intention. In my son’s case, he worked with a jeweler to find a diamond ring to symbolize the commitment he and his fiancé made to each other. The jeweler explained the Five C’s of Diamond quality: cut, clarity, color, carat weight and confidence, and how each of those things symbolized the value of the stone.  

I’d like to propose a similar standard for organizations–Five C’s of Engagement to manifest intention in all phases of the employer–employee relationship: hiring, on-boarding, coaching and development, and performance management.

My Five C’s of Engagement are:

  • Connection: both parties actively build a relationship based on trust, openness and shared purpose
  • Communication: both parties practice 2-way, open dialogue that is proactive not reactive
  • Clarity: both parties ask for and/or provide clarity around task goals, expectations, structure, roles, controls, and how to best work together for results
  • Cohesion: employers ensure that employees feel part of something bigger and important, they understand their respective roles and how the pieces fit together to serve customers; employees know how to lean on and support their managers; team members know how to relate to/with each other, have each others’ back, and practice effective team dynamics
  • Care: both parties demonstrate and foster well-being, compassion, kindness, and inclusion; employers show employees they are seen and that they matter; employees show employers they are seen and that they matter

True engagement may be more challenging in a post-COVID world, but is not impossible. Most of my work is done virtually. My clients, colleagues and I have warm and caring relationships in which we honor and support each other. We show up for meetings prepared and on time. We have each other’s back. We give plenty of notice of changes or possible roadblocks to success. We provide feedback on how things are going. We get great results together. We also laugh a lot and get to know each other personally. Just like martial engagement, post-COVID engagement requires intention and choosing to be fully present and sincere, and is well worth the effort!

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