Employee engagement in COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented situation all over the world. Tens of millions of employees had to work from home, salaries have been cut, massive lay offs started in almost every industry. Gloomy picture of the global economy. Challenging time for HR professionals and internal communicators. It is very hard to keep the level employee engagement when so many other things are at stake. Seasoned PR professional and employee engagement guru Crispin Manners answered IdeaBank’s questions.

We cannot start anything else but how do you see the major challenges of the current situation (home office, lay-offs etc.) to employee engagement? And what can be done?

I believe the Covid 19 pandemic is likely to be a genuinely defining time for employee engagement and how employees view their current employer. People will remember how other people, brands, governments and employers behaved. And there will be tighter emotional bonds with those who were considerate and helpful.

So my first advice to employers is to be kind. Kindness can come in many forms. It can be the tone in which you explain the need to furlough an employee or the genuine recognition that an employee who has to home-school simply cannot perform the way he or she would at work. But being kind, like all leaders actions, has to meet the needs of SCARF (explained in this blog) – a neuroscience framework that should be part of every leader’s toolkit. Because if you are seen to be kind to one employee and not to another, you will have a negative impact at a time when you hope what you are doing creates only positive reactions.

One positive outcome from the crisis is that people have been reconnecting with friends and family and with colleagues. These connections are becoming deeper seated bonds. And employers should take steps to facilitate and encourage these connections by introducing new ways to connect that forge tight bonds with the organisation as well as with individuals. At the heart of this should be the organisation’s Purpose. With the fear of illness or death from an unseen adversary, the current crisis is making people think about what they want out of life. This includes whether their current job makes them feel if they are making a difference. It’s therefore an ideal time to revisit the company Purpose and check if it is both relevant and compelling to employees and customers alike. As these statistics show, clarity of Purpose pays off:

  • Brands with a purpose set on improving our quality of life outperform the stock market by 120%. – Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2017
  • Unilever’s purpose-led brands are growing 69% faster than the rest of their business and delivering 75% of the company’s growth – Unilever 2019

Finally, I think the pandemic is a time when leadership skills will be put to the toughest of tests. Employees will look to leaders to lead – not to manage. They’ll want leaders to provide certainty about what will happen next and the transparency on what matters most in this massively changed world, so that employees feel that what they do makes a positive contribution.

I firmly believe that kind leaders who think about how to adapt to a life alongside Covid, and then after Covid, will find their organisation emerges stronger from the crisis. I will very happily run a free 30-minute brainstorm with any leader who wants to identify options for creating a purpose-driven organisation that performs strongly after Covid.


Apart from Covid-19 what are the major issues employee (internal) communication nowdays? What are the major issues clients come to you with?

Worldcom’s Confidence Index 2019 identified that employee related topics took six out of the top eight places in the Index. These topics included, in priority order: upskilling and reskilling, retaining talent, the influence of employment benefits on success, economic migration, improving productivity through employee engagement and attracting talent.

The reason so many employee topics are keeping CEOs awake at night, is that there is a battle for talent underway where organisations are trying to work out how to keep people loyal. Communication lies at the heart of all these issues and most clients come to us to help them improve communication at every level in the organisation. By using a very powerful engagement platform called Engagement Multiplier we have identified that many organisations need help with three things in particular:

  • Explaining the Purpose of the organisation so that it means something to every employee and the work they do each day
  • Ensuring that every line manager can translate the company Purpose into something that energises their team
  • Giving line managers the skills to act as a coach so that all members of their team feel energised and engaged and continuously improve their performance.


You played an active role in launching Employee Engagement Alliance. What is the aim of that organization? What are your experiences with it?

I helped to launch The Employee Engagement Alliance because I believe that every workplace should be truly inspiring. I believe that happy employees are very productive employees and I want the Alliance to inspire organisations to operate in a way that enables employees to bring their true self to work. As a result, the Alliance focuses on creating a global community of people and companies who share that Purpose. We aim to help our community deliver the inspiration, knowledge and tools to produce an employee experience that engages and energizes.

I also believe that companies that behave in the right way should be recognised for the difference they make to their people. That’s why I’m also actively involved in the Employee Engagement Awards. The Awards is the only organisation that recognises best practice in delivering a great employee experience on a global basis. The Alliance and the Awards are helping organisations transform the way they behave. The results are achieved address all of the issues uncovered by the Confidence Index. Retention is higher, attraction is easier and high engagement is measured not just in engagement scores but in employee innovation, increased productivity and happier and healthier workforce.


Where do employee engagement service providers come from: mainly PR background or advertising companies or different HR services providers? Who could be the most successful in this practice area and why?

Because employee engagement covers everything to do with people at work, it is a sector that attracts people from many different backgrounds. As I mentioned above, communications lie at the heart of successful engagement, so many practitioners have a communications background. However, neuroscientists, HR professionals, coaches and technology providers are also strongly represented.


According to your experiences how CEOs regard this topic? What do they think of employee engagement?

As you can imagine, there are many different attitudes to engagement. There is a very enlightened breed of CEO that understands that business success depends on a happy, heathy and productive workforce that is purpose driven. These CEOs have made engagement one of the strategic pillars of their business. And they are reaping the rewards for doing so.

Some CEOs think it is unnecessary for people to be happy at work (although the neuroscience available today says otherwise) but accept the growing proof that engagement pay-off in terms of business value. As a result, they are beginning to invest in the processes to drive engagement. Their approach is more task based rather than Purpose-driven. They therefore achieve a lower return on investment than the first group. There are other CEOs who are still clinging to a command and control style of leadership. Many of these organisations continue to be profitable and this is seen as proof that there is no need to change. However, the reality is that the returns could be significantly higher if their people were energised and engaged.


Can you tell us about the processes and basic tools of employee engagement activities? How an employee engagement activity does look like?

There are lots of facets of engagement that need to be considered. These include topics such as wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, mental wellbeing, reward and recognition, benefits, leadership skills, employee innovation and effective communication. All have their part to play. However, I believe every effective engagement programme must include the following:

  • A reason why the organisation exists – the Purpose. All the people in the business – especially the leaders – must believe in this purpose and be motivated by the difference it makes to the people the organisation serves.
  • The Purpose must be developed into a very clear narrative for the organisation that explains HOW the organisation will deliver its Purpose
  • An Engagement framework – we call them Navigators – that explains what people will do to deliver the Purpose. This should cover the Strategies, Actions and Metrics that will be used to ensure the Purpose is delivered. It is vital to success that a team version of the Framework is developed for each team. This will enable every member of the team to understand what is expected and what success will look like
  • An engagement driving platform to ensure that the organisation listens to employees on a systematic basis and then acts on that feedback – thus building trust in the leadership and ensuring that the right things are done to increase engagement levels. As mentioned above we use Engagement Multiplier because we have seen it transform engagement and business performance.

Can you summarize one of your campaigns or projects which could illustrate how employee engagement works at its best?

One of our clients was a private equity backed technology company of about 150 people that was sold to a huge global organisation employing about 100,000 people. It would have been very easy for the people in this tiny division to feel overwhelmed and to lose sight of their Purpose. As a result we worked with the leadership team to run a series of Purpose workshops to identify how the company’s purpose dovetailed with the purpose of the new owners. We brought this to life in a simple narrative that showed the two organisations shared a common Purpose in terms of the value they were trying to deliver to their customers. We then gave every team clarity and certainty about that they had to do by capturing this in team ‘Navigators’. To ensure people felt involved we used Engagement Multiplier to capture feedback and act on it on a 90 day cycle. The average participation was over 80% and the Engagement score progressively improved with every round of feedback. As a result, employee churn was very low, and the company performed very well in a difficult market. We also identified and implemented a number of employee ideas that improved processes and enhance the customer experience.


You published a book called „Grow, Build, Sell, Live” a few months ago. How would you summarize its content in a few sentences? Who is the main target audience of this publication? Have you received feedback from readers? What were the first reactions?

Grow, Build, Sell, Live is a practical guide to running and building an agency and enjoying it. The book covers the seven drivers of building a great business. It appeals to anyone thinking about starting their own marketing agency, as well as those who have started one and hit their first round of growing pains, or who are a veteran looking for an exit. We have had a very enthusiastic response to the book because it helps owners and leaders to understand the choices open to them so that they can be in control of their business, rather than have it control them.

Writing it has been one of the most satisfying actions of my career because of the reaction it has triggered in readers. One testimonial says: “Wonderfully practical and extremely well structured, this book really does cover all the fundamental aspects of building a successful consultancy. It shares great insights and recommendations rooted in experience. A must read for those building a consultancy and indeed for those already at the helm of a more mature business.” There are many more here. I would be delighted to talk to anyone who would like advice on how to realise the dreams with their business. You can buy a copy here.

Crispin Manners

Founder of Onva Conculting. He has over 30 years running both public and private businesses and leading Boards of membership organisations. Crispin is also Chairman, and one of the founders, of the Employee Engagement Alliance, a membership organisation with a mission to champion professional development in employee engagement. He is a Fellow and past Chairman of the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and on the global board of the Worldcom PR Group. His book Grow, Build, Sell, Live gained wide recognition in the global PR agency manager community.



András R. Nagy

Managing Partner