The leadership team within organisations, particularly the CEO, has a huge influence on employee engagement and behaviour. Of course, this influence can be both positive and negative.

When there is a crisis, there is huge pressure upon the CEO to ‘step up to the plate’ and provide reassurance, answers and solutions. With the current pandemic, however, the answers are not all there or are not obvious. Leaders now have to manage within the most complex and uncertain environment that they have probably ever faced.

But the CEO is just a human being, and they will bring their baggage – and, yes, even their fears – into the workplace. According to Engage For Success, their personalities, attitudes and preferences could play a big part in how employees are treated and, consequently, how employees feel about their work.

Recognising this helps to achieve a higher level of understanding of the connection between leadership and employee engagement during difficult times. To engage properly with the workforce, CEOs need to increase their visibility, communicate, plan, listen and respond in a strategic manner.

Leadership in Employee Wellbeing: Ask Questions

Employees in some organisations may be in a myriad of situations. Some may be furloughed. Some may be working from home. Some may be working on site and observing social distancing rules. To be sure that the workforce is managing as best as it can, the organisation has to ask its people how they are doing.

The most important elements to cover include:

  • Getting some kind of measure of employee wellbeing and mental health
  • Identifying the most urgent pressure points or areas of concern
  • Measuring trust in managers and the leadership team
  • Checking if employees are getting the right information at the right time
  • Establishing if people who are working from home or remotely have the right equipment to do their jobs safely.

To minimise fear and worries in what is a very uncertain situation, the CEO should work with the HR team to establish or improve effective two-way communications channels. These will give employees a route to speak up and air their concerns, in a supportive manner. It is important that organisations keep emphasising the importance of speaking up to ensure safety in the workplace.

To bed this in, the CEO’s role will be to explain what is happening and reassure employees that managers will listen and engage.

Employee Engagement as a Solution

According to an April 2020 podcast by corporate finance specialists McKinsey & Company, business leaders must start planning as quickly as possible to overcome difficulties. The priorities obviously lie in safeguarding employees and customers but, they argue, economic recovery could be helped by organisations setting up teams that will plan ahead and innovate.

This is a more positive angle to leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. Organisations and employees have moved metaphorical mountains to work differently, and more can be achieved if that spirit can continue to be harnessed.

Again, the CEO’s role is critical in this. If they can issue the right messaging and open up platforms such as discussion boards, apps and suggestion surveys, they can encourage their employees to feel that they are crucial to setting the organisation in the right direction and overcoming challenges.

The HR team is an important support to the CEO to support these important employee engagement activities. Our Resource Centre contains a variety of guides on important issues such as how to respond to employees and toolkits to get things started.

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