Last week, MCC partner Vexxit hosted a special webinar event with epidemiologist Cynthia Carr, founder and principal consultant, EPI Research Inc. In her 25 years working with healthcare organizations and their populations, as well as with other employer types and staff, she has acquired significant insight into the importance of data collection, leveraging a variety of tools at your disposal including actual conversations, and circling back with communities of employees with an analysis of the information you’ve collected.
As we move into year 2 living in a pandemic world, there are so many factors affecting employee satisfaction, including burnout and mental exhaustion, and employers are finding there are engagement, retention, and talent attraction challenges that aren’t going away. The already competitive hiring landscape has tightened even more, with skilled workers demanding greater flexibility, a role with purpose, and better pay, among other things. And MCC heard loud and clear through our 2021 Manitoba Business Outlook Survey that it isn’t only skilled workers either – it’s workers of all levels across virtually all sectors.
View the information-rich recorded webinar What’s Ahead for Recruitment, Retention & Engagement in a Post-Pandemic Lens, and read some of the key take-aways below:
- Carr says she’s often asked: “Are we done with this pandemic? What’s the next wave going to look like?” Although she can’t predict the future, she says that it’s crucial to think about how we can use data as leaders to empower our staff, and to ensure we can retain staff and attract new talent as we move forward.
- “Certainly, when we talk about pandemics and public health, the key is education and empowerment – the concepts work hand in hand. It’s not just a platitude, because in public health, we need people to understand what the action is. The more people feel empowered, the more likely they are to participate and engage, and to stay engaged. We need people to understand what their action is: What exactly am I hearing, and how am I supposed to act for the well-being of my team?”
- “You manage what you can measure – we tend to hyperfocus on those things that we can measure or that we’ve already measured, which means we might ignore risks or not see risks coming, or we might think that investing in different areas is just too expensive. Whenever I work with employers, such as health care organizations, or when I’m evaluating health care programs and planning programs, I ask: ‘What kind of data do you want to collect, how do you want to engage people, and what are the best processes for those?’ But let me tell you, you could pick the perfect survey or tool, but the bottom line is that if you measure, take data away, and you don’t react to it in any way, it won’t go well.”
- Although pandemics are unpredictable, Cynthia says that advance planning is crucial. “If you started investing in some good surveillance, at least you would have good leading indicators. For example, individuals’ values and judgments about work have been changing — even before the pandemic there were already shifts happening — and turnover and vacancy rates were already increasing. Maybe you were already aware of that and noticing that, but the pandemic has expedited some changes, because there have been major effects to our physical health, mental health, and economic wellbeing.” Employees don’t want to go back to what was before.
- What happens when work becomes only about work, like in a pandemic, when we are affected by public health restrictions and changing circumstances? Carr says that employers often ask about what will happen because we’re alleviating the social aspects of work, the mentorship, the growth opportunities, etc
- Typically, when we transition back to ‘normal’ after reacting to a crisis, we go back with some lessons and learnings into a smoother work situation, but clearly, this is not what has happened with this pandemic. “The pandemic has gone up and down and up and down, wave after wave, with a continued impact on our mental health. We need to be scanning for potential threats through risk assessment, which we call ‘sentinel surveillance’ – this is a military term, but it means scanning for threats that might not be that obvious yet.”
- Carr says that, unfortunately, public health isn’t sexy because there’s not an immediate return on investment. “It’s really hard to convince governments and businesses to invest in advance information, but the more you’re prepared to invest in ongoing risk assessment, the better position you’ll be in. You’ll end up with leading indicators to help you detect problems early on, ie, increased absenteeism, difficulty retaining staff, increasing anxiety levels, deteriorating coping skills, etc.”
- The goal of a solid employee communication plan is to be clear and consistent, and to build trust, helping employees becoming accustomed to providing honest information. According to Carr, if you check in genuinely and regularly, employees get used to that as a culture, and they may be more comfortable talking to you regularly about where they’re at, how they’re feeling, or about difficult work conditions or things they would like to change. “The reality is that some things you learn from employees, you won’t be able to change, but if you’re asking about it and responding in some way, at least you’re consulting with them, and being transparent. Maybe there are alternative solutions and opportunities to meet in the middle. You would be surprised how many staff tell us that all they want is an actual dialogue with leaders — for an opportunity to be heard.”
- Carr says that many of her clients have been sharing how difficult it is to attract and retain young workers. “According to a recent survey of young workers conducted by Leger, we know that 70% of youth say they’re experiencing some impact on their mental health.” Employers should be developing systems and strategies to support younger workers, reduce risks, and creating the kind of environment and opportunities they’re seeking.
- If you have multiple data inputs, can you assume you have enough data, and can you make sense of it all? Can you arrive at a place of confident decision-making? Or are there different data points that you should explore, additional communications strategies you should adopt, or ways to empower teams that you haven’t considered?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the key to leadership as the ability to recognize that there’s a problem, react to that problem, and understand that it is going to change over time. In a pandemic, although many factors are clearly beyond our individual control, we should feel as though our leaders can provide support and feedback channels, but that employees have a chance to contribute to solutions.
“When employees feel as though they’re not hearing from the leadership team, things can go downhill quickly and staff disengage. You really need to drill deeper and create the ability for employees to feel part of the solution to problems.”
Here are some additional helpful articles and resources regarding measurements that matter, engagement-boosting strategies, and the looming talent shortage/Great Resignation:
- Vexxit: Unlock the Secrets to an Engaged Workplace
- Vexxit: Leading with the Power of Data by Cynthia Carr
- Five Questions Every Manager Needs to Ask Their Direct Reports
- Challenges in recruitment, retention to linger into 2022
- Talent shortage moves to a chronic problem in 2022