Employee Engagement Strategies During Uncertainty
Workplace leaders are responsible for helping their teams navigate uncertainty. Developing and relying on guiding strategies can help leaders and teams make it through.
''Unprecedented times'' and uncertainty are not new to workplaces and organizations (even though 2020’s global pandemic did put a unique spin on things). We’ve all experienced a rollercoaster of workplace changes. From the shift to hybrid work to exploring how AI tools will impact our services, roles, and processes, Viget has had a front row seat — a cool, feet-dangling, triple loop seat — but we’re still on the ride. As a client services organization, it is our responsibility to lead our clients through their own uncertainty using our expertise to navigate new paths and solutions. We are really good at solving problems. But what happens when the problems are mostly out of our control?
For better or worse, Viget and our team are impacted by the ecosystems we are a part of. Workforce changes, the change to inflation, extreme weather, and countless other factors are at play, sometimes leading to a forecast that can look uncertain.
Our designers, engineers, and strategists are experts in leading our clients to a better digital future. Our People Team is responsible for leading those same designers, engineers, and strategists to a better workplace future where equity and a life-work balance are at the forefront. So, when the forecast looks uncertain at a personal, team, organizational, or global scale we, as People-Ops leaders at Viget, rely on these four strategies to help every member of our team safely enjoy the ride.
Clarity is kindness. Focus on documentation. Aim to instruct. Try a new communication tool, like Loom. Help folks understand. More information is always better, but only when it is clear and fosters understanding.
At Viget we often experiment with new combinations of our website, Slack, and company-wide announcements, and we use what sticks. We also utilize templates for communication, re-using good stuff and doing away with not-good stuff. Our People Team leaders also offer 1:1s and host regular office hours, clearly communicating that our
door calendars are always open.
During tough times, having an open calendar policy may not be enough. The best way to foster understanding is to…
Reach Out 1:1
Proactively reaching out during tough or uncertain times is an underrated super power. Often, leaders communicate transparently but fail to do the tough thing – follow up. Why? For one, it’s easier not to, and it can feel awkward to follow up. But I think the true cause is that leaders confuse autonomy with understanding. We trust our teams to be autonomous, we trust that they will understand — the big picture, the new direction, or even that we are there to support them. However, being autonomous, having a clear picture, and feeling supported aren’t always the same thing.
As leaders, especially during difficult times (but in the good ones too), it’s imperative to foster trust and understanding through 1:1 conversations. And as leaders it’s our job to reach out. When you do, listen and keep these things in mind:
- Approach conversations earnestly.
- Understand what power dynamics may be at play.
- Don’t expect a response.
- When you reach out, do so in your own words.
- Never shy away from saying, “I don’t know.” Which brings me to my next strategy…
Rely on your values. At Viget, we're fully independent, we're medium sized, we hire intentionally, and we have strong values rooted in over 23 years of great teammates and work excellence. One of those values, Be Real, is key when times are uncertain.
How often do you answer "How are you doing?" honestly? This question – often the start of internal, external, and 1:1 conversations – is a prime opportunity to be real. Being real, and answering the "How are you?" question candidly, is an exercise in showing up. One that, during uncertainty, frankly might take a bit of effort.
Flourishing workplaces are environments where everyone, including leaders, feels empowered to show up authentically. Being real is a step in that direction. The next time you're asked "How are you doing?", you might:
- Share about something you've appreciated recently or something you are looking forward to
- Exchange your frequently-used "good" answer with "medium," or another attribute
- Find common ground
I believe great leaders lead by example. In addition to being real, effective leaders should…
Lots of things are out of our control. Some experts even argue that everything is. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that belief but I understand that spending time on being upset about the things I cannot change is a wasted opportunity. So, I choose to choose joy. How? Through gratitude. For example, here’s a simple situation that can be reframed: I don’t have to take my dog for an extra long walk in the morning, I get to take my dog on a walk. Why reframe? In my experience as a People-Ops professional, the best moments in my career have been when I have helped others show up, care, and be silly — and you can’t be silly without joy (even if it’s just a medium amount).
So, the next time you find yourself on a roller coaster and you can’t see where the track ends, be real. Scream (or not) and choose joy. And once the ride slows down, and you're wondering if you should hop off or take another spin, reach out and seek understanding.
These strategies help us lead our teams towards better workplace futures, but they work just as effectively as guiding principles for individual contributors, people managers, or organizational leaders. As People-Ops professionals — from Recruiters, to Employee Engagement Managers, to People Operations Coordinators — we are leaders in workplace culture, safety, and trust. But that leadership wouldn’t be possible without the designers, engineers, and strategists who are brave enough to allow us to help them show up, care, and be silly.