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Key Takeaways: News You Need This Week

COVID-19 Weekly Culture Pulse Survey: March 23-27, 2020

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This weekly pulse survey from the O.C. Tanner Institute tracks how the 2020 pandemic is impacting workplace culture and the employee experience. Check in often to see how employees are feeling and what leaders are doing about it. Then use this knowledge to act with confidence, inspire your people, and get through this together.


COVID-19 presence

COVID-19 infections are an increasing presence in workers’ lives.

How quickly things change. It doesn’t seem that long ago when all of us were thinking, how bad is this Coronavirus thing going to be? Aren’t these social distancing efforts a little premature? But each week the pandemic’s impact increases:

22.8% of employees report a COVID-19 case within their organization (up 150.6% from last week)
45.4% of employees report a COVID-19 case within their community (up 68.1% from last week).


How organizations are responding

Organizations are taking action to safeguard employees and customers.

From equipping employees to work at home to putting in social-distancing measures for front-line employees, companies are stepping up efforts to keep products and services coming while keeping people safe.

91.9% have taken a safety action in response to COVID-19
90% of those who can are working from home
54.1% modified roles to make them remote capable
85.6% are cancelling non-essential business travel
74.6% are requiring 14-day self-quarantine after travel
71.4% have limited retail hours
63.5% require social distancing at work

As municipalities and states increasingly issue “stay-at-home” orders, we anticipate many of these safety initiatives to change in our next survey.

Organizations are increasing their efforts to communicate about COVID-19.

Employees are hearing from their leaders more often, through more mediums, than before the pandemic, and these efforts appear to be increasing as organizations work to get the word out about the pandemic and actions the organization is taking:

3.19 average communication methods used to communicate
77.5% use email
49.7% use team meetings
20% use text communication (up from 12.8% last week)
15% use video communication (nearly double from 8.1% last week)


Change in workplace culture and employee experience

Employee attitudes toward their workplace culture are beginning to shift gradually.

It takes time for something like a global pandemic to impact key workplace culture metrics. But we did begin to see a shift in two key indicators.

Decrease in Employee Net Promoter Score 14.5 to 13.4

Increase in intention-to-stay (predicted, as outside factors decrease job opportunities) up 1.1%

The indicators of burnout (as addressed in our 2020 Culture Report) are shifting.

The indicators of burnout (exhaustion, futility, and avoidance) are showing some movement. It is worth noting that while these changes may appear “small,” any statistically significant movement in such a high-level indicator is actually quite important, particularly within a short amount of time.

Increase in Exhaustion 52.1% to 55.4% 

Increase in Futility 38.9% to 42.6%

Now is the time for organizations to get ahead of burnout—make use of telecounseling services when possible and enable employees to rest and recharge. Leaders should focus on creating space for employees to discuss openly about how they are feeling and how COVID-19 is impacting them— whether it be in a team meeting or a one-to-one.

Many aspects of workplace culture are being impacted by the pandemic.

From decreases in employee recognition to an increase in concerns about health, some aspects of workplace culture are beginning to be affected by changes brought about by COVID-19. Again, any statistically significant movement in these high-level indicators important within a short amount of time.

4% decrease in leader motivation
9% decrease in peer-to-peer recognition
4% decrease in continuous learning
4% decrease in recognition visibility
5% decrease in consistency of recognition
4% increase in the perception that the organization impacts employee health

COVID-19 is dramatically impacting the employee experience.

As businesses and countries adopt more stringent measures to contain the COVID-19 virus, the day-to-day employee experience is almost unrecognizable from what it was a few months ago. The pandemic is reaching into every aspect of our work and family lives in ways that can’t possibly be ignored.

39.8% worry about losing their job (up 44.7% from last week)
60.3% worry about a loss in income (up 17.8% from last week)
66.5% say all they can talk about is COVID-19 (a negligible change from last week)
64.9% report a “tense” work atmosphere (up 22.7% from last week)
45.7% say they are less productive at work (up 84.3% from last week)
222.1% increase in fearfulness
135% increase in feeling isolated


Impact of organizational actions

What are organizations getting right?

Organizations have taken many actions to support and protect employees. Here are how some of these common actions have impacted culture and the employee experience.


Safety actions make a difference.

Organizations that are taking extraordinary safety measures are seeing results. While the impact of taking just one safety action is impressive (a 25% decrease in feeling like the organization is putting employees at risk), a comprehensive COVID-19 safety program (one that includes five or more safety actions) yielded significant dividends including a:

510% increase in the employee net promoter score
32% decrease in employees feeling like the organization puts them at risk
30% increase in trust that leaders care about employee health and wellbeing
50% increase in engagement
133% increase in feeling supported by the organization

Requiring remote work brings a mixed bag of costs and benefits.

The workplace has been transformed, nearly overnight, as organizations sent remote capable employees home. Not surprisingly, doing so has come at a cost to productivity, collaboration and morale. Fortunately, there are some benefits as well.

Costs of COVID-19-related working from home.

decrease in self-reported productivity
33% decrease in the observed productivity of others
49% increase in avoiding collaboration with others
41% increase in fearfulness of COVID-19

Benefits of COVID-19-related working from home.

increase in a sense of work/life balance
25% decrease in feeling like the organization is putting the employee at risk
16% decrease in feeling vulnerable to COVID-19
22% increase in trust in leaders to prioritize the health and wellbeing of employees
7% increase in engagement

Social distancing is an important COVID-19 mitigation tool.

Many healthcare, grocery, manufacturing, delivery, and other businesses simply cannot send employees home. For industries with a lot of front-line employees, social distancing practices within the organization can keep people safe and help slow the spread of COVID-19. But there are several important effects to consider.

31% increase in fearfulness
22% increase in actively avoiding collaboration
24% decrease in self-reported productivity
14% increase in a tense atmosphere at work
13% decrease in peer-to-peer recognition

Revising and expanding sick leave is proving effective.

Many workers come to work ill because they cannot afford to miss work. This pressure places others in the workplace at risk, including customers. Only 23% of organizations have revisited their sick leave policies, and only 32.8% of organizations have introduced new flexible time-off policies to accommodate for COVID-19 infection and caring for others. When organizations take these actions, there are immediate benefits to the organization and the employee:

357% increase in net promoter score
24% decrease in worry about losing income
19% decrease in feeling pressured to come to work sick
183% increase in feeling like the organization supports them
10% decrease in feeling exhausted
19% decrease in feelings of futility


Actions to consider taking

How to sustain a thriving culture during the COVID-19 crisis.

The 2020 pandemic has impacted the employee experience more deeply than any global event in recent memory. Routines and lives are being disrupted in some unprecedented ways. In the midst of this chaos, organizations are finding a few effective ways to support, inspire, and encourage employees in times of change. Here are some quick actions you can take to maintain a culture that helps people thrive.

Prioritize consistent one-to-ones.

Regular one-to-ones are critical - not only to discuss how people are adjusting to COVID-19, but also to keep employee growth and development on track. In Key Takeaways March 23-27—COVID-19 Weekly Culture Pulse 10 our 2020 Global Culture Report, we found that one-to-ones should happen at least monthly. Even better results come from biweekly or weekly one-to-ones. Employees need to hear from their leaders regularly, especially now. Here’s how consistent one-to-ones impact employees in crisis:

14% decrease in an employees’ intention to leave the organization
264% increase in net promoter score
51% increase in engagement
27% increase in a sense of collaboration
133% increase in feeling supported
9% decrease in a sense of futility
29% increase in trust

Create frequent video messages from leaders.

In times of crisis, people need to see and hear from their senior leaders, even if they cannot be present in person. A video is more emotive than a sterile email. So, prioritize this type of communication to measurably affect your culture in these ways:

20% increase in motivation (when connected to purpose)
21% increase in a sense of belonging
28% increase in trust that leaders care about employee health and wellbeing
12% decrease in feeling fearful
53% increase in engagement
95% increase in feeling like the organization supports employees

Increase employee recognition to spotlight people doing good.

Times like these bring out the best in people. Employees are being asked to give more effort, do more great work, and have more patience with the organization as it adapts to a new normal. And they are heeding the call. Now, more than ever, be on the lookout for opportunities to recognize employees for their major victories and everyday contributions to your success. When employees are recognized within the past month, we see an increase in each high-level indicator of culture:

Purpose increases 15%; Opportunity increases 29%; Success increases by 24%; Appreciation increases by 22%; Wellbeing increases by 6%; Leadership increases 27%

We also see a: 20% decrease in fearfulness; 38% increase in engagement; 181% increase in the perception of support; 17% decline in exhaustion; 21% decline in feelings of futility; 27% increase in collaboration willingness; 8% decrease in collaboration avoidance

Encourage video conferencing for remote employees.

Many employees are working remote for the first time in their career, and as our research notes, facing decreased productivity. We asked remote employees what they needed from their organization to better connect them with others. The answer? Video conferencing.

We found that many remote employees had the ability to connect via conference calls. But video conference is what people are seeking. When asked what organizations could do better to support remote employees, video conferencing showed up 13x more than any other topic. Even if your organization has video conferencing enabled, employees may not feel prepared Key Takeaways March 23-27—COVID-19 Weekly Culture Pulse 12 to use it. Offer best practices, training, and actively encourage every meeting to be a video call (when reasonably possible).

In addition to enabling and encouraging video conferencing, remote employee communication preferences gravitated toward daily stand-up video (or conference calls) with their team. The occurrence of daily stand-up calls was 8x greater than other topics.

The last suggestion from remote employees was establishing a group chat for their immediate team—so people could stay in touch regularly and the team would always be in the know about the same information. The occurrence of daily group chat was 3x greater than other extracted topics.

Knowledge is resilience.

Leaders everywhere are determined to rally their people to not only survive the 2020 pandemic, but to thrive within it and prepare for a strong recovery on the other side.

Stay tuned to our COVID-19 weekly culture pulse surveys for insights that will help your organization to weather the storm.

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