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Managing employee performance during COVID-19 – keeping staff engaged and productive

about 1 month ago by MTC Recruitment
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As 2020 rolls to a close, many HR teams and employers are looking at ways to keep employees engaged and motivated amid the turbulence of pandemic restrictions. Managing employee performance during COVID-19 is the key focus for many business leaders as we head towards Christmas. Some restrictions are easing. But others, like opening of state borders and large gatherings, remain in force.

Is your team feeling fatigued and depleted as the year draws to a close? Now more than ever, it’s important for employers to care for staff mental health and encourage them to keep striving for success—even if that success needs to be redefined. 

Should I still conduct a staff performance review?

A key element of performance is the staff appraisal. It’s a good idea to evaluate whether it’s appropriate to continue with planned performance reviews. On the one hand, it could be a cause of unwanted additional stress. On the other, it’s a great way to reassess goals and keep your staff clear about their priorities. Depending on your approach, a positive performance review can instil newfound enthusiasm about contributing to broader organisational goals. 

 You can choose to: 

  • Delay performance reviews

  • Cancel them altogether 

  • Conduct a modified performance review to check in and set new goals

  • Give staff the option to elect if they have one or not 

Delaying or cancelling performance reviews could be the right decision if staff are in the trenches and under pressure helping keep the company afloat. Instead, a brief check in chat could be more suitable. 

However, if the staff bonus structure is attached to reviews it’s important to continue to give staff clarity on what to expect financially. Or, it could be a matter of using performance reviews to adjust expectations and keep staff feeling engaged and supported during these turbulent times. Consider the demands that performance reviews put on managers. Suddenly, they have to undertake their typical responsibilities as well as manage several potentially taxing performance reviews. So, creating a simpler, easy-to-manage alternative could be highly effective. 

Revisit your bonus structure 

Do you have a bonus structure for staff based on company or personal performance? Perhaps it is no longer possible to offer those incentives if your organisation has suffered a reduction in income. If that’s the case, strive to quickly communicate the decision to reduce the chance of any rumours or confusion amongst your team. 

If the bonus is no longer financially viable, are there other rewards you can offer? Perhaps consider:

  • Partial payments

  • An increased budget for mentoring and training

  • More flexible leave arrangements

  • Additional annual leave

Simplify expectations 

Due to the rapidly changing work environment that the pandemic has created, it’s difficult to evaluate staff on the entirety of their previous KPIs. Particularly if they were set at the start of 2020 when the economy was soaring. 

Given the fluctuating landscape and uncertainty around restrictions, it might be challenging to set annual goals. There’s a possibility that we could all go
back into lockdown, travel and gathering bans could continue and your industry could be further impacted by the recession. A good alternative is to focus on short-term goals that accommodate this uncertainty. This could be retaining a percentage of clients, creating a new online program, or introducing a new revenue stream. 

 Setting just one or two short term core goals has numerous benefits:

  • Gives staff clear understanding of their top priorities 

  • Empowers staff to know what success looks like 

  • Reduces chance of staff focusing on less important priorities 

  • Fosters a sense of unity as everyone works together to achieve a unified goal 

Flexible goal setting 

Goals are often based on performance or financial metrics. However, goals that acknowledge contribution and self-care are becoming increasingly important. Qualities like being able to adapt to change, maintaining a positive mindset and learning new skills are vitally important. While these soft skills are harder to quantify (how do you measure if someone is ‘positive’?) it can be these contributions that impact the company culture for the better. As such, they should be encouraged, recognised and championed. 

Employee morale 

Many people are feeling stressed, uncertain and knocked around by 2020. Is there a way to give employees a quick win that will boost morale? Everyone loves the satisfaction of a job well done, so the feeling of achievement may be just what is needed. It’s not about rewarding incomplete work or celebrating mediocrity. The key is to set expectations to give staff something to focus on that is achievable and measurable in the current landscape. This could be: 

  • Touching base with one client per day/week 

  • Checking in with their team

  • Attending a mental health seminar

  • Giving everyone a ‘check-in’ buddy from a different department to connect with

Replicate the water cooler 

A key part of company culture is those ‘by the way’ check-ins that happen in the workplace or office. Unfortunately, a catch up in the kitchen, a nod in the hallway or a hello by the printer is not possible if you are working remotely. Even if your staff are still coming to work, social distancing reduces those opportunities for spontaneous, casual interaction. While on the surface they seem like nothing much, they are actually a big part of company culture. 

So how can you replicate that remotely? It’s not the same, but using tools like Slack or Asana, you can recreate those off-the-cuff-chats. It could be used for: 

  • Accountability: setting intentions at the start of the day and checking in on progress

  • Celebration: random pats on the back for team wins 

  • Personal: share your pets, family stories or ‘would-you-rather’ stories to facilitate casual conversations and allow everyone to get to know each other better

Managing shifting workloads due to redundancy or reduced productivity

If you’ve been forced to make redundancies, it means you have shifted responsibilities elsewhere in the team. Staff may be struggling with adapting to changing deliverables. Even without redundancies, it's likely that your productivity may have dipped as staff navigate home learning (still in place for some students in Victoria) family commitments and other stresses. Is it possible to bring in temporary contractors to alleviate the workload? Staff will hopefully appreciate the investment in their team with additional resources while things slowly get back to normal (fingers crossed). Short-term contractors provide the benefits of hands on deck without the long-term commitment and cost of hiring permanent employees. 

Consider continuing work from home allowances 

As restrictions around the country ease, your staff may have mixed feelings about returning to the office or workplace. Some miss the hum and busy vibes that foster productivity. While others will be apprehensive about commuting, or simply prefer the flexibility to work from home. 

Have you clarified your policy on returning to work? Will you go back to the pre-COVID model, or introduce more flexible work from home options? Employers are realising that productive teams don’t have to be in the office full-time, and many staff appreciate the opportunity to work from home. Perhaps a hybrid model would work well, with your team working partly from home and coming together in person when needed. Is this something you will embrace? Whatever you decide, communicate your plans to your team so they are clear on your expectations. 

Most employees like the work from home model

Buffer’s annual State of Remote Work survey (conducted in 2020 among 3,500 remote workers from around the globe) found that 98% of respondents would like to work remotely, at least some of the time for the rest of their career. The study also found that remote workers enjoyed the following benefits: 

  • Ability to have a flexible schedule – 32% 

  • Flexibility to work from anywhere – 26% 

  • Not having to commute – 21% 

  • Ability to spend time with family – 11% 

  • Ability to work from home – 7% 

Managing employee performance during COVID? Try these key priorities

  • Deciding whether to continue performance reviews 

  • Clarifying the company bonus plans

  • Simplifying workplace goals and KPIs

  • Embracing the chance for quick wins to boost morale 

  • Recreating the water-cooler culture (where possible)

  • Reassessing your work from home policies

We hope we've inspired you to try a few of our suggestions, and hopefully they help you maintain a positive and productive culture in your workplace. 

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