The state of humanity at work: keeping employees engaged during a pandemic

Everyone has a unique set of perceptions of what it means to be human at work, and with the current state of the world amid COVID-19, those expectations are shifting. Here at Workhuman, we’re finding there’s a greater focus among senior leaders related to gaining a deeper understanding of core human needs.

This spring, my team surveyed more than 2,600 full-time workers in the United States and found that 21% of workers were actively looking for a new job. In light of the challenges many industries are experiencing, that number is likely higher now. Most of these workers are in healthcare (16%) and technology (13%) – two industries with workforces that have been heavily affected by COVID-19, whether because of the greater risk to front-line workers or the sudden need for high-tech solutions, such as Dyson designing a new ventilator. 

While many people may be looking for a new role as a direct result of job loss related to COVID-19, most voluntary job seekers haven’t had a great experience at work. Of those pondering a job change, 33% say they’ve been sexually harassed at work (more than 2x higher than the survey average), 73% have experienced burnout, and 42% don’t trust their HR departments. Traditional tactics used to protect retention and engagement simply don’t cut it anymore.

The good news is there are concrete steps you can take to put your people and your business in a better position to thrive as the world moves through this pandemic. The results of our survey are eye-opening around factors such as safety, fair pay, work-life harmony, inclusion and belonging, growth, and recognition – core aspects of a human workplace. The more improvements companies make in these targeted areas, the more people and businesses will flourish. It’s that simple.

These findings should be a call to action for HR and senior leaders to leverage the data and insist on a better experience for all. Sparking change takes courage, but there’s never been a more opportune time to innovate – to reject archaic, bureaucratic ways of working and make your workplace inherently more agile and responsive to human needs. 

Here are some statistics we uncovered:

1. Safety: Fifteen percent of workers surveyed said they’ve been sexually harassed at work. And while a majority (61%) of those harassed were female, 36% were male. Companies still have a long way to go in building trust and showing a commitment to listening and respect.

2. Fair pay: It may not come as a surprise that more men than women feel they are paid fairly (72% vs. 61%), but our survey also shows pay transparency could be one step toward increased fairness overall.

3. Work-life harmony: More than half of workers (54%) say they’ve experienced burnout in their career. At the time this survey was conducted, more than one-third of working moms and a full one-quarter of working dads did not think their company’s parental leave policy gave employees enough time off. And only one in three said they could work remotely, even though remote workers are more likely to report being highly engaged and happy at work.

Of course, U.S. families are currently experiencing a major shift in terms of both parental leave and remote work, with many parents both working from home and homeschooling their children. It is our belief (and hope) that revisions to traditional policies will stick in a post-COVID world, with more organizations trusting in their employees’ good-faith efforts to balance all the responsibilities of modern life.

4. Inclusion and belonging: Echoing previous Workhuman research, the top reason people are discriminated against is their age – more so than their race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Of the nearly one in five workers (18%) who have a mental health condition, 45% say they’ve felt discriminated against at work because of that condition.

5. Growth: People who see a path for growth in their organization are nearly 2x as likely to be highly engaged, 56% more likely to be happy at work, and 56% more likely to have a sense of meaning and purpose at work.

6. Gratitude and recognition: Here’s where the opportunities for improving the human experience at work come together. Employees recognized in the last month are 3x less likely to report feeling unsafe at work, more than 2x as likely to see a path to grow in the organization, and nearly 2x as likely to trust their HR team. And giving frequent recognition can be just as powerful – but everyone must be dedicated to going beyond surface-level appreciation. HR and people leaders should embrace a year-round mindset of gratitude, creating a new management strategy fit for the workplace of the future.

The findings in “The State of Humanity at Work” are a call to action for all us to leverage the data and insist on a better experience for all, both as we weather the storm of this pandemic and rebuild our organizations and economy after we reach the other side.

Jesse Harriott is the global head of analytics at Workhuman and Executive Director of the Workhuman Analytics & Research Institute (WARI).

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