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June 4, 2020 // Cathy Planchard // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

The Economics of Employee Engagement

By: Cathy Planchard 

While they may not necessarily like it, organizations and their people have adjusted to operating in a pandemic. Working from home has become routine, thanks in part to early communication between employers and employees. They have mostly worked out the kinks.

But as we hit the nearly four-month mark of working from home, the virtual happy hours and blur of video team and client calls, things could begin to crack and unravel right as organizations feel stable enough to start planning for the return of employees to physical offices. And employee engagement and company culture are among the first things that could fray.

The costs of disengagement are staggering. Gallup estimates work disengagement totals 34% of a person’s salary. PRWeek reports the 2020 median salary for a comms pro is $100,000 a year. That means a disengaged, median-salaried PR employee costs their organization $34,000 annually—or more simply, $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary. Consider your total number of employees and their salaries, then do the math!

Employees not fully engaged as they work from home will also struggle to re-engage when they return to the offices. It will not be the return to normalcy we all crave. The offices and office lives will not be exactly as we left them in March. We can expect split shifts at reduced volumes. Some will also grapple with interruptions over how they deal with taking care of children or elderly parents, adding yet more stress and costs. For example, NBC reported working moms’ coronavirus-related struggles to engage will cost the economy $341 billion. 

As many organizations continue to fight for their economic futures, engagement, flexible workstyles and truly understanding employees’ concerns become even more crucial. You've got to do everything you can to get employees more focused, more productive and more engaged. 

As Sir Richard Branson said famously, “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.” Engaged employees are critical to attracting new customers, keeping customers and providing great service.

Are your employees ready to hit the ground running when the pandemic is over? How can you know for sure? 

Pulse surveys help. They offer a snapshot in time of employee sentiment, which can then be used as a benchmark from which to gauge any changes. Allison+Partners has used pulse surveys during the pandemic to see how employee sentiment has changed within departments and across countries. We were able to track, for example, how employees felt in select markets in Asia as they returned to work in a significant way. We were also able to see how the news cycle of various policy announcements, increases in COVID-19 cases, and even the lifting of restrictions contributed to their mood. In the wake of the horrific and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, we used surveys to listen to the thoughts and opinions of our employees to determine how to be better as an agency and hold ourselves more accountable.  

These surveys can also bring deeper insights into the things that will either help get back to a more normal state and/or the things that you've got to figure out, address and work around in the months to come. They can identify trending themes within the organization and uncover, for example, the factors required for an employee to feel more comfortable returning to the office or traveling for clients post-pandemic. It’s clearly not one-size-fits-all.

Surveys not only drive insights, but they also reinforce to employees that their opinions matter, driving higher engagement. Establish the cadence for your surveys and keep the questions clear and simple. And make sure you acknowledge the team’s perspective. When you ask someone for their opinion, you have to show you have heard and considered it — even if you don't agree and act upon it in the way that the employee might have wanted.

Our agency prides itself on its culture and the recognition of being a “Best Places to Work” for the past three years by PR Week. Creating that sort of winning culture and engagement requires being dialed into changing employee needs, desires, obstacles, fears and concerns. It’s what drives our internal best practices for engagement and culture and what leads to better retention rates of our team. That’s the real impact from employee surveys.

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Cathy Planchard is global president of All Told, overseeing the company’s content, digital, creative, research and measurement teams. She is an avid traveler, Saints fan and spicy Cajun cook.

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