Driving Employee Morale and Engagement During COVID-19

As we move through the immediate crisis and into tough months ahead, strong internal communications will be more important than ever before to keep employees engaged and productive. Below are best practices to guide communications: 

  • Customize communications: Speak directly to employees with messages that are meant for them. We’re in the middle of a crisis the likes of which none of us have ever seen. Show you care about employees as human beings first and profits second. Employees should see general investor and news announcements (before or at the same time they are issued publicly), but these do not count as internal communications.
  • Be transparent and give perspective: Say how your business is impacted. Be truthful. But don’t be afraid to put the situation into perspective. Consider this video of Marriott’s CEO, which received widespread praise, announcing to employees widespread furloughs. He calls COVID-19’s impact “worse than 9/11 and the 2008 recession combined.”
  • Emote: It’s good to show appropriate emotion: concern, empathy, resolve, reassurance. It can be easier and more effective to show these emotions rather than to convey them in written format. Video messages or webcam meetings with employees should be considered, especially given that so much of what people take away from a message (at least 60 percent) is non-verbal.
  • Be solutions oriented: While outlining issues, make sure to give solutions. Explain what you are doing to meet supply shortages, declining revenues, employee furloughs etc. See this video of J&J’s CEO on the TODAY Show. When asked about Tylenol shortages, he acknowledges the problem and discusses what the company is doing to resolve the issue (converting production of extended release capsules to regular formation, which is more efficient/quicker).
  • Move quickly and be consistent: It’s not enough for employees to hear from their leaders once and then not again. Typically, employee communications go through a number of internal approvals. Move quickly—the crisis is evolving rapidly and a message that is relevant this week may not be next.
  • Listen: Do you have mechanisms in place to collect employee feedback? Ask senior leaders to bring you employee concerns and adapt all-employee messaging to respond to concerns as appropriate. Take a page from Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon Communications who went live on Twitter Live and Instagram to talk with employees and address their questions in real time.
  • Be an employee advocate: Show externally that you are championing employees. This impacts internal morale. Follow the examples of
  • Say how you are helping the greater good: Studies show this matters more than ever to employees. There is a long list of companies who are doing everything from continuing to pay hourly workers who are out of work (Microsoft), funding paid sick leave for all workers regardless of full time status (Google), making products free (e.g., Loom’s education platform, Linkedin’s learning courses, New York Times’ COVID-19 coverage) and the list goes on. If you are giving back during this time, talk about it!