The pandemic stretched and challenged the employee-employer relationship in ways nobody predicted. It also cast the role of frontline employees in a new light. Global snap surveys of executives reveal that in excess of 80% of business leaders acknowledge that the response by frontline workers to pandemic challenges, exceeded their expectations.

Almost universally frontline workers are being acclaimed by executives for incredible tenacity and adaptability in the face of the pandemic’s hurdles.

Tough Journey

This buoyant assessment of frontline employees appears to be in stark contrast with the lived experience of these workers. Microsoft’s annual work trend index reveals that across all generations (Boomers, Gen X, Millennials & Gen Z) actively working during 2021, only 14% felt ‘engaged and excited about work’. The index also shows that some 41% of workers globally considered resigning in the period ahead.

A study delving into psychological distress among frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic lifts the lid on some of the reasons for worker disengagement. Changing teams on a regular basis (driven by the pandemic’s health effects), the use of personal protective equipment, complicated collaboration and communication procedures with co-workers, and ever-changing organisational logistics (work schedules, rules and regulations) disrupted workers’ ability to influence outcomes and disturbed many people’s work-life balance.

As workers tapped deeper into their reserves of resilience and resourcefulness to overcome these challenges, they inevitably pushed themselves closer to mental and physical exhaustion.

It’s no wonder that businesses are now having to cope with a reflective workforce. Employees are rethinking everything, from who they want to work for all the way through to the mission and values of companies and how they identify with these on a personal level.

Time to Lean In

Business leaders will be well served to encourage debate within their companies on how employees see their organisation’s place in society and take note of the shifts required in employee-employer engagement that surface during these debates.

A Gallup report recommends practical steps that can be taken to bolster clarity around employee expectations and strengthen employee engagement. These include:

Focus on the Basics – The essential pillars of employee activity become susceptible to erosion during times of great turbulence. Frontline employees’ confidence in knowing what’s required of them has suffered a decline in almost spheres of business. Getting these fundamentals right is the first important step.

Role Clarity – Half of employees strongly believed that they were well equipped to accomplish their jobs in the first half of 2020. Since then, the figure has dropped  7%. Many teams are now made up of new or fewer members and employee productivity is vacillating. Role clarification, generally viewed as an important aspect of employee engagement, is now more important than ever.

Clear and Regular Communication – Managers are in charge of putting leadership choices into action and inspiring their teams to complete tasks. In 2020, nearly 50% of employees felt their immediate manager was keeping them well informed of developments, this dropped to 36% by the end of 2021. Managers need support with employee communication solutions that clearly and concisely inform employees of developments and future direction.

Managerial Support –Most frontline managers have also endured a torrid time. The fluid nature of the work environment forced many to solve workplace problems ‘on the fly’ and their ingenuity has been tested. In the eyes of many frontline managers, expectations and prospects for growth are particularly fragile in view of the emergence of hybrid work environments and tech-based solutions for worker monitoring. Coaching sessions for these managers is vital. If frontline managers are not assisted, business leaders will soon discover it’s virtually impossible to engage their workforce if their managers are worn out and uninterested.

Research shows that some 61% of executives describe themselves as thriving in the emerging post-pandemic work environment. As work and life are now more blended than ever, it’s imperative that companies address employee engagement shortcomings to give their frontline workers the opportunity to benefit from this new era. If neglected, the thriving environment in which many executives currently operate will soon prove to be unsustainable.

Key Takeaways

As the traumatic turmoil that accompanied the pandemic starts to recede, the focus is shifting toward the future employee-employer relationship. The accelerated business transformation ushered in by the pandemic has shifted frontline workers’ expectations around employee engagement. For many companies, this will require a re-think to bridge the engagement disconnect that has formed during the past two years. To learn more about approaches that can be adopted to kick-start this new employee engagement era read here for insights.

As an industry leader in digital employee communication solutions, Wyzetalk can help with your engagement challenges. Click here to talk to an expert today and find out how you can start your employee experience journey.