Leaders Should Go Beyond ‘Intuition’ to Measure Employee Engagement in Remote Setting: Thoughts from Matt Seadon of Achievers

September 21, 20219:56 am1396 views

The Great Resignation amidst the pandemic has taken many business leaders by surprise. The changing work landscape has given an urge for people to leave their jobs – or at least think about it – in droves. Unexpected resignations present big challenges for managers, they need to pay attention to the possible reasons behind the exodus and do something real to address these issues.

In the era of remote working where interactions are done virtually and emotions are easily hidden behind the cam, managers can no longer rely on their ‘instinct’ to measure employee engagement. Today, HR in Asia sits with Matt Seadon, Managing Director – Asia Pacific, Achievers to discuss how leaders better support and connect with their workers in a remote setting. Stay tuned!


  • As the pandemic enters its second year, how do you find yourself and your team adapting to the new normal? Do you notice any significant difference between before and after the crisis?

Answer: Beyond the changes to our day-to-day lives, the pandemic has undoubtedly left a significant impact on the way we approach work. Released in July, our first-ever Asia Pacific Engagement and Recognition @ Work Report found that 42% of Singapore organisations reported dips in engagement levels while working from home.

At the same time, workforces have seen an increase in burnout, with 78% of employees globally saying that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. It is important to note that the pandemic was not the sole driver behind these issues, but it has exacerbated underlying issues that have been plaguing employees for years, with the effects only now coming into the spotlight. 

As an employee engagement and recognition platform, Achievers has been walking the talk even before the pandemic. We work hard to create a culture of recognition from the top down and bottom up. We actively encourage peer-to-peer recognition, listen to employee feedback to continuously improve our remote working experience and provide support and training across our organisation.

For instance, every few weeks, our employees from across the world are randomly paired up and are encouraged to connect 1:1 for virtual coffee chats. These online catch-ups go a long way in fostering important connections across teams and geographies, which can help to support and keep employees engaged in these changing times.

  • Achievers’ study revealed there is a disconnect between how leaders perceive their employees’ engagement levels and employees’ actual experiences in the workplace. Based on your observation, how could such a misread happen? What makes managers confidently overestimate their workforce?

Answer: One possible reason for this disconnect could simply be the fact that managers are not as effective as they think they are. It’s also possible that they may lack the necessary training to be effective leaders. Findings from our 2020 Management Empowerment Report revealed a strong correlation between a manager’s effectiveness and their team members’ engagement at work. Consequently, team members who have not been able to properly connect with their managers may end up as contributors to this misalignment.

Another possible reason could also be the fact that managers simply aren’t aware of the extent of this misalignment. Given that managers are more heavily invested in an organisation’s culture – in part because they are being remunerated to embrace and model it – they may develop an overexuberance for work that employees under their charge may not share. In the process of embodying this enthusiasm, they begin to overlook the thoughts and experiences of their team members, thus resulting in a lack of awareness of the situation on the ground.

  • The study also mentions that ‘intuition’ is letting many leaders down, meaning that data is crucial to make informed decisions. In the era of working from home, what’s the best approach to measure employee engagement?

Answer: The shift to remote working has made it more difficult for leaders to have complete oversight over how their teams are doing. This hampers the effectiveness of the ‘intuition’ that they might have relied on in past face-to-face environments.

Most importantly, company leaders have to reach out to their teams and gather feedback about how they are doing. Given the remote setting, certain tools like pulse surveys or single-click polls would be well-suited to reach out to a geographically-scattered team, and can be used alongside other key metrics like productivity and retention rates to measure employee engagement.

At Achievers, we also like to look at recognition as a measure of engagement. Our past research has found that companies with highly-rated cultures of recognition are more than twice as likely to see improved employee engagement levels, as well as increased productivity levels and retention rates.

In fact, the use of HR tech tools like Achievers’ employee recognition software can generate a wealth of constant, real-time data into recognition activity on the ground, which may in turn be analysed to gather insights around employee engagement levels.

  • Only 9% of employees ‘feel recognised’ at work, as compared to 18% of management who think their employees feel that way. In your opinion, what have so many leaders been doing wrong in recognizing and rewarding their workforce? What are the red flags that signal that there’s a gap in employee engagement and recognition, and how do leaders identify them?

Answer: We cannot pinpoint one single cause that led to the disconnect between managers and employees. Several key factors likely contributed to this misalignment over time.

One common problem that we see across organisations is “inaction fatigue”, where employees are periodically asked for feedback and ideas by the company, but no action is taken to address their feedback and no concrete results are produced. This leads to employees feeling unheard and unvalued.

According to our 2021 Engagement and Retention Report, 60% of employees stated that although their organisations would seek feedback on key issues, only 16% of management frequently took action to improve. Consequently, this can lead to leaders forming an impression that they have already made an effort to address employee concerns, while employees remain dissatisfied with the lack of action.

Another major red flag can be seen in the difference in the feedback being given by employees across surveys and face-to-face meetings. According to our 2020 Culture Report, 77% of respondents had shared that they would be more honest in a survey than in conversation with a manager. Being candid to someone’s face – especially if that person is potentially part of the problem – can be difficult. This explains why manager feedback might not be truthful at times, while surveys might actually better reflect true employee sentiment. This discrepancy between both types of feedback may also be an indicator that a gap exists in employee engagement and recognition.

The key to identifying these red flags comes back down to company leaders making use of the various channels of information available to them, and sifting through the data to identify any discrepancies or misalignments that may exist. This should be done on a regular basis, as this will not only prevent the data from being conflated by additional factors over time, but it will also allow leaders to pick up on these issues early on and address them before they become more serious.

  • Engagement levels are plummeting during the WFH initiative. How can employers better support and remain connected with employees in a remote setting?

Answer: In remote working, face-to-face interactions are extremely limited, and this can have adverse effects on employee recognition and engagement. Our latest Engagement and Recognition @ Work Report noted how only 12% of Singaporean employees felt more recognised while working from home.

Company leaders must thus refocus on recognition, and take the lead in driving its inclusion in company culture. One good way to do that is through active listening and communication. 26% of employees attribute a diminishing company culture to a lack of communication. Employers should thus look to establish channels through which they regularly connect with employees, be it via external, third-party software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, or through internal networks and employee experience software. 

Finally, employers should look to support their employees in attaining a healthy work-life balance and prioritising their mental health. While remote working arrangements have brought benefits to employees, it has also left a significant impact on their mental health and wellbeing, with 61% of Singaporean employees facing higher stress levels during the height of the pandemic.

  • Hybrid working models are projected to be the future of work. Do you think the workplace needs to continue evolving in a post-pandemic world? If so, what is the first step to take?

Answer: If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the need to be ever-ready to adapt to change. One of the lasting legacies of the last two years will be the paradigm shift in the way people choose to work, and the acknowledgement that flexible working arrangements is now a necessity. In fact, 54% of office workers consider quitting their jobs if their employees did not continue to offer flexible work arrangements beyond the pandemic.

Employee-centricity has become the name of the game, and organisations must thus look to refocus their workplace strategies beyond physical locations and continue placing the needs of their employees at the forefront of their operational policies.

Firstly, and most importantly, companies need to put in place location-agnostic workflows that allow them to remain constantly in contact with their employees, regardless of their working location. While countries like Singapore have looked to gradually ease employees back into offices, a significant number of them have still indicated their preferences for hybrid work arrangements to remain in place beyond the pandemic. As such, companies should look to invest in HR technologies like digital communication channels and employee engagement platforms moving forward, to ensure that all employees will be able to continue receiving an optimised employee experience, regardless of their preferred working locations.

About

Matt Seadon is the Managing Director of Asia-Pacific at Achievers, an industry-leading provider of employee recognition and engagement solutions. Having joined the company in 2018, Matt is responsible for the Asia-Pacific business – including sales and client service teams in Melbourne, Sydney, and Singapore. With nearly two decades of industry experience under his belt, Matt is a specialist in social-based recognition, and has previously held senior management positions in some of the world’s leading organisations across Asia. 

Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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