It’s been another year for the books, without a doubt. The last two years have combined to make a remarkable period in history, with totally unique challenges that many of us are still sorting our way through.

One particularly unusual element, for me at least, was watching company leaders pivot at the onset of the pandemic, and then observing the effects of those decisions through the lens of our employee engagement data.

It’s unusual for a broad dataset like our engagement data – tallied across industries and global geography – to vary more than a few tenths of a percentage point – at the most. However, throughout the pandemic, the average monthly engagement scores have been on a roller coaster, sometimes varying by multiple percentage points per month.

In fact, the largest swing we’ve seen was this year, when the lowest average engagement score was recorded in April (an average of 72.8) followed immediately by the highest score average score of the year in May (78.7.)

In October, the average was back down to 74.4.

If you have a head for numbers, you’re probably nodding and saying “That is interesting,” under your breath.

But please remember that these numbers represent how people are feeling. It’s not just the numbers that have been on a roller coaster this year. It’s our people.

There’s no doubt this is a real moment for leadership, however, there’s no piece of blanket advice that would be remotely helpful at this moment. There’s no silver bullet for identifying and addressing the challenges you’re facing within your business, and I’m not going to waste anyone’s time suggesting I have such a panacea.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t the opportunity to engage your team – in the face of (or maybe in spite of?) the challenges they’re facing with you.

Finding employee engagement opportunities within business challenges

Employee engagement, at its heart, means creating a workplace environment that enables your people to be present, focused, and energised. The things that interfere with an employee’s ability to be present, focused, and energised need to be ferreted out, and removed.

  • For example – an employee who doesn’t have a clear view of her role and responsibilities will have a hard time focusing.
  • Her coworker who is lumbered with kludgy software that keeps crashing as he’s trying to complete his work will soon feel the very opposite of energised.
  • Their colleague whose supervisor provides indifferent guidance and no recognition is soon going to be thinking “why bother” and will be less present at work.

These are common examples of how an employee’s engagement can be diminished by their experience at work. Now, let’s look at what’s afoot today, and think in terms of where the opportunity exists to re-engage employees, even as they’re up against the challenges you’re encountering in your business. For the sake of this exercise, we’re going to look at three different challenges many leaders are facing today: supply chain constraints, labour shortages, and increasing the adoption of automation.

To find the engagement opportunity, you have to first look at the knock-on effects the employees are experiencing, and then think in terms of involving your people in finding solutions. Here are some examples:

Supply chain constraints: Supply chain constraints are reducing inventories and preventing companies from fulfilling orders within expected timeframes.

  • Employee impact: Sales is hamstrung and fearful for their quotas (and possibly their jobs.) Unhappy customers put pressure on service teams, and company leaders face hard choices, such as pausing production, closing locations, and reducing staff.
  • Engagement opportunity: Invite employee ideas for easing customer concerns, finding new opportunities to serve clients, and other opportunities they see on the front lines. While their feedback is unlikely to unsnarl the supply chain, inviting employees to share information and feedback has been found to have the dual benefit of helping employees cope with stress while also enhancing innovation. contribute to innovation.

Labour shortages: The “Great Resignation” and the simple fact that fewer people are participating in the workforce have together created a fiercely competitive job market, leaving many employers short-staffed.

  • Employee impact: Remaining employees are shouldering increased workloads and in some cases, mandatory overtime, leading to burnout and disengagement, especially for those who have to face unhappy customers.
  • Engagement opportunity: This is a great time to find and eliminate wasted motion within your organisation. Ask employees how work can be reduced – their leaders may not see opportunities for removing steps, improving processes, etc. Chances are you will get some enlightening ideas. A second opportunity exists in upskilling current staff into more difficult-to-hire roles. By providing opportunities for career growth, your team will be invigorated and you’ll increase engagement, and likely improve retention.

Increased adoption of automation: Many businesses invested in digital and automation technologies during the pandemic, and are capitalising on those investments by increasing the use of technology to streamline and automate processes.

  • Employee impact: The challenge arises in getting buy-in from employees who may feel their jobs are threatened or are averse to the influx of new technology and resulting changes.
  • Engagement opportunity: Get buy-in by asking what the organisation should start, stop, and continue doing, and invite continuous employee feedback (with an equally continuous response from leadership) to create trust and transparency, and to give employees a voice.

Focusing on the impact discrete business challenges have upon your people can not only enable you to find ways to improve the business and engage your people, but it can also improve the trust and communication between leadership and employees. Giving your people a voice and making them feel they have a say in the direction of the company can be incredibly motivating.