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How Key Engagement Drivers Have Shifted Along With Work Life

Nicole MacLean
Nicole MacLean

Everything’s topsy-turvy, in just about every aspect of life, and drivers of engagement are no exception. What was imperative for workers a few months ago might be less important now — and vice versa. But it’s sure tough to address those changing needs if you don’t have data. Our recent webinar, Beyond Data: Improving Engagement with Action, details the importance of data for confirming your gut or shining a light on things you may be blind to — and the ways priorities have shifted for your employees. 

Panelist Josh Hammonds, PhD, specializes in business and organizational communication at Rollins College. He shared some interesting findings after comparing data from before and during the impacts of COVID-19. And while we’ll continue to learn more about the impacts of COVID-19 on engagement as the weeks continue, Dr. Hammonds identified three drivers critical to fostering engagement during this time. Each has gained new prominence in this strange and rapidly evolving landscape.

Goal Support

During times of change, you need to ensure your employees 1) know what success looks like and 2) have the resources to reach those goals. Whether your team has gone remote or still working in the field, their goals have likely shifted.

Our data shows that nearly two-thirds of employees feel uncertain about the impact of recent events and are concerned that there will be a negative effect. This concern manifests in fear-based decision making — unless direct supervisors and the executive team provide clear direction. Exemplary goal support is key to preventing a fear-based culture and ensuring your team is rowing, uninhibited, in the same direction.

As a leader, the first question you should ask yourself is, “Have I adequately communicated the current set of priorities throughout the organization?” It’s important to communicate frequently and clearly so that every level of the organization understands the goals and can adjust their work to align.

When priorities aren’t clear, employees don’t surface blockers, innovation slows, and autonomy is stifled.


Defined as the extent to which an organization trusts their employees to use their expertise to make decisions about how to do their jobs, autonomy has risen as a critical component of engagement during this time.

Not only do employees need clear direction and support around company goals, they also need the freedom to achieve those goals in their own way. Managers have the incredibly tough job of striking a balance between support and micromanaging. A few things to consider: 

  1. Has your team’s past performance earned them autonomy?
  2. Have you provided enough direction for your team to understand what success looks like?
  3. Is your team willing to be held accountable for their decisions?

Autonomy requires clarity and trust. Focusing on goal support can improve autonomy, but without trust, truly empowering your team is almost impossible. To develop trust, especially if there wasn’t a strong foundation pre-COVID-19, prioritize consistent 1:1 communication with everyone on your team. 

These quick conversations should focus on three things: How are you doing as a person, what are your priorities, and do you have any blockers? The answers you hear will allow you to coach misaligned priorities and actions, which helps build trust. And checking in really helps you and your employees connect.

Role Clarity

Also a traditionally moderate driver of engagement, role clarity is now vital for fostering engagement. Make sure that you define each employee’s work purview and connect daily tasks to the overall purpose of the organization (or, for now, to a shorter-term, more relevant vision). 

Regardless of the state of your workforce (whether or not you’ve had to reduce force), your team’s current day-to-day responsibilities have likely shifted. Some may be invigorated by these new tasks; others could feel completely overwhelmed. Having the conversations recommended above can help identify these feelings early. 

Additionally, I highly encourage managers to revisit their team’s job descriptions. This can be a great time to empower your direct reports to evaluate their current job descriptions or even start from scratch. People support what they help create; asking them to own this process fosters trust and autonomy. 

Outside of giving an individual clear guardrails for innovation and decision-making, role clarity allows everyone in the organization to move faster. They know what they own and who to go to for help.

A shift in focus — for now

While all 17 drivers play a role in improving employee engagement in the company, focusing on goal support, autonomy, and role clarity will give you the biggest bang for your buck. For more insights like these, be sure to watch our webinar, Beyond Data: Improving Engagement with Action.

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