Major crises appear to be on a nearly once-in-a-decade cadence; we experienced the tragedy of 9/11 in 2001, we felt the collapse of the economy in 2008, and now, we’re amid a global pandemic of proportions not suffered through in over 100 years. Not only has the pandemic negatively affected the health and lives of people around the world, but it has consequently impacted the economy and how companies operate. As we learned in 2008, it wasn’t necessarily the poor economic conditions that affected employee engagement and sentiment, but rather the actions of leaders and how they led their company through the crisis. Up to this point in the pandemic, we are seeing a similar trend.
Between 2015 and 2019, employee engagement had enjoyed an all-time high and stayed relatively consistent during this period. It seemed as if we had hit a ceiling effect. However, as the threat of the pandemic grew incrementally in March and through the summer of 2020, we formed a hypothesis from our learned experience of prior crises that engagement may increase, and the research conducted by WSA indicates that indeed it has. We analyzed engagement survey data across 118 engagement census survey projects in 2020 and an additional 80 survey projects in the first half of 2021. What we found surpassed all expectations.
Employee engagement has increased on average from 72% favorable in 2019 to 75% favorable in 2020, and it’s currently at 76% favorable in the first half of 2021. At no other time in the last decade has engagement increased so sharply as it has in the last 18 months.
Why might this be? When we examined the drivers of engagement for these organizations and compared them to their drivers before the pandemic, we discovered a clue. While before the pandemic a common key driver of Engagement was Future Vision, defined as employee confidence in the future of their organization and their belief that leadership can guide the organization through the rough waters, it was not the top driver. However, during this time of crisis, Future Vision has consistently risen in priority and impact to employee engagement—and for organizations who acted upon it, Future Vision scores are quite positive. This evolution makes sense because, during a crisis, Future Vision translates as comfort and trust for the employee in the direction and choices of the organization and its leadership, it also envelopes a measure of security for their personal well-being.
While we will be expanding on this research as more data becomes available, the current conclusion is that organizations who had led at the helm, who were proactive rather than reactive have been given credit by their employees for their efforts in being transparent, caring, and doing what they can to make sure employees and their families were as safe as possible. Leaders who are willing to listen to their employees in tough times and act on what they hear are essential to all of us coming out of this crisis stronger.
Look for expanded data pulled from the WSA database that envelopes responses from over one million employees across more than 200 countries, to be released shortly through the SHRM® website.
WSA is proud to partner with SHRM to provide customers with science-based content and consulting that empowers the SHRM employee engagement survey.