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Conversing in a Crisis: The Relative Power of One-to-Ones

COVID-19 Weekly Culture Pulse Survey: May 11-15, 2020

One-to-one meeting with leader via zoom call.

The one-to-one conversation between employees and their leaders has become a common organizational practice and a critical experience in many company cultures. However, it’s not just the quality of the discussion that makes it valuable. Regardless of how personalized, co-created, or natural they are, one-to-ones have a clear cumulative effect. The number and frequency of these meetings is a significant factor in employee engagement, morale, and productivity. And it’s an even bigger factor during times of crisis like the one created by COVID-19.


This is not to say the content of each one-to-one isn’t important. It very much is. If you’re curious, we outlined what makes a meaningful one-to-one in our last Global Culture Report. But this week’s pulse survey of 1,372 employees throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. focuses on how often employees need this kind of contact to thrive, and what the benefits are for organizations that provide it.


More is more


Research we conducted last year, at the peak of an extended period of economic prosperity, indicated employees should have a one-to-one meeting with their leader at least every month. (Think of it as cultural hygiene; a baseline to maintain key metrics.) A regular cadence of twice a month was better, but any more frequently met a point of diminishing returns, with no appreciable difference in outcomes between every week and every other week.

Contrast that with our latest findings in the throes of a global pandemic:

A single one-to-one conducted over the last 30 days wasn’t enough to yield any positive measurement.


Plus, there’s now a statistically significant difference between every week and every other week. Specifically, compared to conversations every other week, weekly one-to-ones:

Increase engagement 58%, increase in perceived productivity 31%, 23% increase in feelings of appreciation, 19% increase in sense of purpose, -47% decrease in burnout, -15% decrease in fearfulness, and -16% decrease in depression.

And compared to monthly one-to-ones, weekly conversations:

+79% increase in engagement, +67% increase perceived productivity, +22% increase sense of purpose in organization, +31% increase in feelings of appreciation, -33% decrease burnout, -53% decrease fearfulness, and -21% decrease in depression.

The moral of the survey


In spite of the fact that nearly a third of employees say they dread meeting with their leader, one-to-one discussions remain one of the strongest ingredients for generating great work. And even without examining the quality, it’s safe to say the quantity is key.

While organizations could coast with even one personal chat per month in the past, that’s not enough for most employees when work becomes more stressful. Unpredictable times with unfamiliar circumstances require one-to-ones at least every other week to have any positive effect.

Like so many other facets of our work lives that have changed with the coronavirus pandemic, caring for employees has a new prescriptive standard: one, 1:1 conversation every week.


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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