How COVID-19 impacted the relationship between the enterprise and its employees

2020's top drivers for employee engagement are belonging and corporate social responsibility, according to Qualtrics.

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Image: Chainarong Prasertthai, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Daily lives and lifestyles were recast globally in 2020 when the COVID-19 virus was first detected. In addition to the devastating effects on health, it reshaped the way the world does business and how organizations treated their employees. A global snapshot of the employee experience is chronicled in a new report from Qualtrics' annual employee experience trends report

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

The 2021 report does not mince words: "2020 will be remembered as the year the employee experience changed forever." It cites the global pandemic, social unrest, physical separation as one of the many reasons balanced by leaders who are rethinking and reshaping how to take care of employees.

Employees want to belong and feel the company has their backs

Four of the key takeaways from the report were the rise of engagement score, listening more to feedback regularly, and intent to stay. Only "taking action on feedback" was down ( -7%).

The strongest drivers of employee engagement were revealed to be a sense of belonging and a sense of the company's efforts to have a positive, worldwide impact, with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as "top of the mind." Working at home has led to the fueling of "always connected" work, thus blending work and life.

Engagement in 2020 was up 13 points from 2019's score, and only 53% stated their intent to stay in 2019, in 2020, that number leapt to 70%.

The change of work location, the shift to home, in 2020 was only the start. While belonging tops the list, adapting to change, learning and development, CSR, career goals, and confidence in leadership are leading drivers.

What makes employees feel like they belong

"In the wake of a pandemic, calls for racial justice, and unprecedented change, it's even more important for your people to feel they have the space to be their authentic selves, said Lindsay Johnson, XM scientist, Qualtrics, in the report, who added, "And not only that, but what they're a part of is having a positive impact on the world. It makes sense that these ideals are becoming integral to the employee experience." 

People felt they belonged if they could say the following: "I am proud of this company's effort to have a positive impact on the world," "there is open and honest communication at this company," "I feel a valued member of my team, and I feel supported in my efforts to adapt to organizational changes."

What defines well-being to employees

Most organizations understood the innate value of employee well-being, which is defined in the report by a five-point system of indicators, all of these at work: Feeling calm, feeling energized, rarely feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities, feeling positive about yourself, and having trusting relationships

Employee well-being remains critical as organizations continue to recover from this time of disruption, said Lauren Rice, XM scientist, Qualtrics, also in the report. "Whether it's providing flexibility to employees as they juggle work and personal responsibilities, supporting employees as they attend to any family health concerns, or just taking the time to listen to employees' concerns, it's a necessity at this time for organizations to care and support employees' well-being. When organizations care for their employees, the employees will in turn show care and dedication to their work and the organization."

Who's more stressed? The singles or the partnered?

Qualtrics' data shows that single people are less likely to report a sense of well-being at work, despite the added burden of online learning, families are less impacted by the stressors. The percentage of people who report favorable well-being: 72% married or living with a partner with dependent children, 68% married or living with a partner without dependent, 66% single with dependent children, and 58% single with no dependent children. 

Organizations need to listen, but also to act

There's a great disparity between employers and their staff, according to the report, regarding acting on feedback: 92% of employees believe it's important the company listen to feedback, but admit that only 7% of employees say their company does so. But acting on feedback matters because when employees feel heard, their engagement is doubled, compared to those whose companies have not acted on or acted on only slightly. 

"The response to the COVID pandemic brought a steep change in employee listening," said Jake Outram, XM scientist, Qualtrics. "Many organizations quickly pivoted to send out frequent pulse surveys in order to support employees with well-being and work-safety issues. This has raised the awareness and appetite for agile employee listening with both leaders and their people."

Nearly 11,900 full-time employees from 20 countries were surveyed to assess the state of employee engagement in the time of the pandemic. 

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...