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Pepperdine | Graziadio Business School

Talent Management During the COVID-19 Crisis—Part 1: Employee Engagement

Worker on video conference call from home

I am becoming increasingly aware that a lot of people managers are ignoring good talent management practices during the COVID-19 crisispandemic. I know this because so many managers ignore these practices even during the best of times.

The thinking is that when you’re managing a crisis, there isn’t time for a luxury like talent management—we’ve got to figure out how to get the work done. But talent management isn’t a luxury—it’s what drives productivity. With so much of the American workforce working remotely, keeping productivity up during the coronavirus crisis is more important than ever. That’s why I will be writingwhy I want to remind businesses about the importance of talent management during this unprecedented crisis. this talent management blog focusing on talent management during this crisis. We’ll start with one of the most important factors in talent management: engagement.

Driving Employee Engagement During the Coronavirus Crisis

"Never let a good crisis go to waste."

—Rahm Emanuel


Employee engagement is a proven leading indicator of productivity. As employee engagement goes up, productivity goes up (as does retention and safety). That’s why so many organizations have made employee engagement a priority. And while employee engagement is difficult under the best of circumstances, it’s especially challenging when people are isolated and not having contact with co-workers.

People crave human contact. One of the last "tugs" that keep people on jobs even if they’re dissatisfied is connections to co-workers. Even people like me, card-carrying members of the Introverts Club (a club that has very few meetings), still need occasional human contact. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we focus on doing whatever we can to focus on keeping our employees engaged.

The problem with saying we want our employees to be engaged is that we never finish the sentence. Engaged with what? If I press people to actually finish the sentence and tell me what they want their employees to be engaged with, they usually say the organization. That’s a correct answer, but not a complete one. We also want people to be engaged with their own work, with their co-workers, and, since retention is a by-product of engagement, with their managers (remember, managers are the leading cause of voluntary turnover).

Fortunately, there are things we can do to drive engagement, even during this stay-at-home crisis:.

  1. First, we must remind people how important the work of your organization is. Whether you are on the front-lines of providing healthcare or keeping the country’s supply chain moving or simply helping to keep the economy going and keeping people employed, each organization’s work is important.
  2. Secondly, we must remind each employee that their work is important and their contribution is important. Remember, both organizational purpose and individual contribution are vital components of motivation and engagement.
  3. Managers must focus on maintaining frequent and regular connection with employees. Fifteen of the top twenty drivers of employee engagement relate directly to an employee’s direct supervisor. Employee engagement is driven by conscious direct contact between manager and employee.
  4. Finally, we must remember how important it is for employees to be engaged with each other. Remember, employees tend to have social (non-work) interactions with colleagues every day. Whether it’s group lunches, birthday celebrations, watercooler conversations (are there watercoolers anymore?) or simply brief “How was your weekend?” conversations, social interactions are part of the fabric of everyday work life. Fortunately, there are way to include these interactions even during a stay at home order.

My friend Monica has organized happy hours for her colleagues. A few times a week at the end of the workday, a group of co-workers get together on Zoom. They can talk about anything—except work stuff. She even decided to add a dose of whimsy by encouraging people to wear their favorite hats to the happy hour get-together. I’ve even heard of groups of colleagues having a virtual cocktail hour in which everyone sits down with a drink while they socialize virtually. Zoom has proven to be a wonderful tool for facilitating online meetings and classes. It has the same capability to assist in socialization.

While employee engagement might not be on the forefront of your mind during this crisis, productivity and employee retention should be. And employee engagement is the most powerful driver of productivity and retention. 

Learn More About Talent Management During the COVID-19 Crisis

This article is part of a series on talent management during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Click a link below to read more: