Last week I was asked to contribute to an article all about employee engagement during this current crisis. In particular what tips and hints I could share with organisations who were thinking about it. It got me thinking. Should we really be discussing employee engagement at all?

Surely, the first and most important thing here is employee safety and well-being. Any organisation, large or small that focuses on engagement before ensuring that all their staff are safe and well at this current time are simply doing the wrong thing. Employee engagement will come as a direct result of the way organisations behave and communicate with their people. The first rule of any communication is to put yourself in the audience’s shoes. And to put it bluntly, your audience will be scared. We have never experienced anything like this before and everyone, including your employees, will be worrying about their long-term security and their own mortality. And that of their close family. To your audience these are all more important things than company profit, performance or productivity – and most definitely than silly hat Zoom calls.

So, it’s time to rethink the rules on how we communicate with our people.

We need to start by showing humanity and compassion. An understanding that their human needs and concerns may go way beyond the workplace. Most of all we need to be honest. Many employers are also going through their own existential crisis, and this can come across in their communication. They need to be calm, clear and authoritative, as well as being human, honest and compassionate. Maybe by telling their people how the current crisis has affected them personally, then leaders will show some transparency and outstanding communication. How organisations behave now, will not only influence how they navigate this current crisis, but also how they emerge and thrive in the future.

There are numerous examples of organisations doing it badly, you only need to think of Brittania Hotels or Wetherspoons to see how damaging negative press coverage can be. Or even my golf club, who wrote to all members saying unless they paid their, not insubstantial, subs by 1st April they would be unceremoniously kicked out. Despite the fact that many of the members are over 70 and in the high-risk demographic and some are working in the NHS and other support services. It showed a distinct lack of empathy. Sometimes adopting a bit of humanity and humility goes a long way.

Those that are doing it well, are communicating regularly across a variety of platforms, are ensuring all their people are safe and well, they’re being open and honest about the current business outlook. They’re not trying too hard, seeking column inches or hollow praise in social media. They’re doing something much more important than that. They’re building deep, long-lasting relationships with their people on the foundations of care, trust and honesty. And that is the epitome of employee engagement.