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Employee Engagement When the Going Gets Tough

The following post is courtesy of our board member Natalie Bickford,  Group HR Director at Merlin Entertainments PLC.

Employee engagement is a tough gig even when your company is performing well, meeting analyst expectations, and paying out bonuses. But when your typically high-performing organization has a bad year, your share price tumbles, and the variable pay is absent, then employee engagement must take a major hit, right? That is what I had always imagined would be the case, until I saw very specific examples during my HR career, of employee engagement rates actually rising on the back of difficult circumstances.

I have a theory about why this happens. Just like in our daily lives, we tend to worry about superficial things until we need to worry about something more important. The imagined slight by a work colleague, the envy of a friend's new car, the rainy weather on a summer vacation. And then someone gets sick, loses a job, or suffers a relationship breakdown, and we suddenly forget that stuff, dig deep, and focus on what really matters.

We can all moan about our own employer, the same way we might about a family member, but we don't want people outside our organization talking negatively about our company, because our company is tied to ourselves, how we choose to spend our days, and deep down we are (hopefully) proud of our company, and loyal.

When we are asked to reduce our departmental costs, we may moan about the injustice of the request. But when it is imperative to reduce costs for the sake of the business' future, we will quickly offer up those “nice to haves” that no longer seem quite so critically important. Having become a bit complacent, we may suddenly find new fire in our bellies, go back to our roots and focus on doing the basics brilliantly, reminding ourselves of what the key drivers are to our business' growth, and working on them as though our work lives depended on them - because, in fact, they might.

In short, my experience has been that when the going gets tough, as a workforce, we rally. We rally around the core purpose of our organization, we rally around our leaders, and we become single minded about getting to a better outcome.

So, if your company is facing tough times in this new year, don't assume that engagement must suffer. See this challenge as an opportunity to get employees super-focused on delivering a very targeted plan and don't be surprised if morale and engagement actually increase in the process.

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