Going beyond "thank you" to recognise staff during the coronavirus pandemic

Author: Sheila Attwood

As we come to the end of six weeks of coronavirus lockdown, HR reports that employee engagement is high. But what are the most innovative employers doing to maintain this?

XpertHR's third pulse survey on coronavirus found encouragingly high levels of employee engagement, with 78.8% assessing it as either "excellent" or "good". Alongside this, one-third of respondents (32.2%) felt that engagement was now at a higher level than before the pandemic.

The evidence suggests that as the crisis goes on, HR has done far more to ensure that it is communicating with employees effectively and promoting health and wellbeing. We have seen numerous examples of organisations having regular check-ins between managers and their staff, introducing flexibility for those working from home, and holding virtual social events. In our latest survey, however, we sought to investigate some of the other ways in which organisations are recognising their employees to keep them engaged.

Practices to promote employee engagement include:

  • Saying "thank you" This is one of the most common - and cost-effective - ways to recognise employees, with organisations adopting a number of approaches. Verbal thanks are frequent, but others include:
    • recognition in the CEO's weekly newsletter;
    • "hero of the week" awards;
    • sending e-cards and letters of thanks;
    • public "shout-outs" to individuals and teams that have gone the extra mile;
    • on-site visits from the leadership team to thank staff;
    • posters of appreciation put up around the workplace;
    • invitation-only virtual social call for the top performers to be thanked in person by the senior leaders within the company;
    • continuing use of existing reward and recognition programmes, administered virtually for the time being; and
    • using social media platforms to thank teams and individuals.
  • Sending a gift. Two organisations in our survey took advantage of the time of year and sent an Easter egg to all their staff as a thank-you. Other gifts included chocolate, flowers and "cream tea hampers".
  • Introducing a homeworking allowance. Employees who suddenly found themselves working from home may have encountered unexpected costs, including the need to buy basic equipment such as a desk and chair, and higher electricity, heating and telephone bills. Paying workers an allowance ensures that the move to homeworking does not leave them out of pocket. For those workers whose household income has been adversely affected by the pandemic, such a move will help with their financial wellbeing too.
  • Using furlough time for continued professional development. While employees who are on furlough must cease all work for their employer, the guidance states that they can undertake training. One employer is supporting additional continuing professional development during furlough.
  • Asking employees how the organisation is doing. With a great deal of uncertainty and so much else going on, now might not seem the time for an employee opinion survey. But focussing one on how the organisation has done in its response to the coronavirus pandemic can provide useful information on how employees are feeling - which is harder to gauge when they are in dispersed locations - and show that the organisation is listening.
  • Awarding additional time off. Many businesses have called on employees to go above and beyond what would normally be expected of them in order to adapt to, and continue operating through, the current situation. For example, one organisation is "rewarding staff with a reward day off, especially for those that have been working longer hours to ensure business operations are delivered smoothly".