Throughout the pandemic, leaders faced the major challenge of motivating and engaging people while transitioning into new workplace conditions. While new strategies to complete work emerged, we saw some people seized by COVID-19 fatigue, and resources everywhere were stretched thin.
As survivors return to the workplace and shape new versions of collaborating both virtually and in person, employees often find more responsibilities have been added to their roles. The “other duties as assigned” bullet point on federal position descriptions comes to the forefront. Survivors must tap into their resiliency yet again and discover new ways to endure and thrive with shifting workloads while transitioning into post-pandemic work cultures.
As leaders, it’s vital to strengthen our motivational skills and continue to build trust. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds us to provide foundational needs, such as physiological and safety needs, as well as a strong sense of belongingness.
What can leaders do to boost motivation and engagement while navigating through this second wave of unprecedented change?
Here are five tactics to use today in preparation for the upcoming changes:
- Communicate what you know as early as possible and as often as possible. Be honest about what you do know, and reassure others you’ll provide updates to fill in the missing blanks. The following statement can go a long way when proven with follow-up action: “You’ll know as soon as I do.”
- Be available. In a virtual environment, establish “office hours” like those of professors. Employees can visit during those hours for a coffee chat or bring work-related questions to you and anyone present. Take advantage of this time to get to know people on a human level. If no one shows, consider inviting people for one-on-one chats. In the physical work environment, you don’t say you have an open-door policy but then leave your door closed most of the time. A feeling of isolation, a lack of belongingness, is a productivity killer ― ensure people stay connected whether they are behind a screen or in the office.
- Get feedback regularly – anonymous feedback. Asking for pulse checks about how people are feeling has become a leadership norm during the pandemic, and this action should continue with the second massive wave of change. Don’t assume people will want to return to the physical workplace. As the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results showed, there was an increase in engagement and job satisfaction.Ask for direct feedback about the new processes and procedures. Ask for any process improvement ideas and discover new ways to increase productivity. Boost confidence by accepting ideas and turning them into action. Giving others the power to help shape the future can be a big motivational booster. Surveys can be routinely done, but a more effective method can be to check productivity levels and create anonymous surveys when productivity stalls or backslides. Anonymity brings truth, and action behind ideas boosts trust throughout the workplace. With this second wave, there is the opportunity to create a new culture. As a leader, ask yourself what type of culture you want to shape. Ask employees: “What’s the one thing you would have changed about our pre-pandemic culture?” Then, create the new post-pandemic workplace culture together to ensure high motivation and engagement.
- Don’t be wooed by mediocrity. Often, supervisors want to give their survivors a break, and that may indeed be what’s needed. Accommodating during difficult times of change is expected, but don’t allow complaints to lower standards. To combat negativity, celebrate successes showing when challenging deadlines have been met and how impactful the team can be. Sometimes, people want a new challenge to increase their competencies and gain a sense of efficacy. That’s the opposite of backing down from an established expectation. Instead, boosting motivation can come in the form of a new challenge or praise. When leaders allow complaints to lower expectations, lower productivity is the eventual result. Instead, don’t be wooed by mediocrity! Find ways to set and meet those high expectations with motivational boosters.
- Be positive and allow space for sharing concerns without retaliation. Yes, leaders are the cheerleaders of change and aim to support people while accomplishing organizational goals. But, if supervisors are always positive, it eventually seems fake. Don’t try to “rah-rah-rah” your way into acceptance. Create time and space for people to feel safe venting to one another (and hopefully to you). Eventually, leaders will gently shift the conversation into action.
For example, give this approach a try: “I’ve been thinking about what you said yesterday regarding the new procedure we have. If you’re comfortable sharing some insights with the team, let’s have a meeting to determine how we can take action for improvement.” This level of patience and listening skills results in motivating others to resolve problems and take action for better outcomes. When people feel heard, they have a strong sense of belongingness, and often, there’s increased productivity and progress.
During times of change, it’s vital to regularly ask yourself, “What have I done in the last week to motivate and engage others?” As Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily!” Use the five tactics noted above, and secure high motivation and engagement levels in your workplace.