Insights Discussion: Navigating a Pandemic: Listening to Employees Through Turbulent Times [VIDEO & Recap]

By Perceptyx - April 10, 2020

Table Of Contents


6 Key Takeaways from the Insights Discussion

In a panel led by Perceptyx’s Sarah Johnson, Ph.D., five HR leaders from different industries--healthcare, retail, manufacturing, finance, and technology--took part in a discussion of survey strategies, success stories, and lessons learned from their efforts to give their employees a voice during the COVID-19 pandemic. These leaders took the opportunity to lean into their employees during this difficult time and asked what they could do to help, and the results so far have been overwhelmingly positive. Their examples serve to give others a head start in building their own employee listening program in response to the pandemic.

Throughout the discussion, our panel touched on many topics, but six key themes emerged as common to the experience of everyone, despite the differences in their industries. Below is a summary of these key takeaways and lessons learned.

1) Employees want to be heard.

The focus of the roundtable was clear: Listening. While listening and validating the needs of others is always a best practice in the workplace, this is especially important during this crisis, and also especially challenging with the unique needs of workers now placed in an unexpected situation such as working remotely or being temporarily furloughed.

Amanda Tomkoria, Senior Director, Global Talent Practices at NIKE, added her voice, discussing how the NIKE team recognized the importance of enabling leaders with the tools necessary to drive meaningful communication and conversations with their teams. Research and employee data revealed the importance of giving employees a voice and NIKE recognized that their best option for their company was mobilizing their leaders to be the stewards of employee listening, coming from a place of courage and compassion. Tomkoria mentioned, “We really emphasized the message that engagement and staying connected with their teams is more important than ever.”

2) Executive leadership want valuable employee data.

When asked if gaining approval from leadership for employee surveying was an issue, none of the panelists had to sell leadership on the importance of surveying, and indeed for each, leadership was hungry for more data - pushing for more insights and quicker turnaround times between survey distribution and results.

The truth is: Everyone running a business wishes they had a crystal ball to tell them which decisions will be the best in continuing to grow and sustain their company. When you don’t have magic or clairvoyance available, the next best thing is of course good data - and HR is uniquely positioned to provide this data to the people who need it most: leaders! HR is also uniquely positioned as a function aware of how COVID-19 has impacted their organizations and the employees and can leverage this knowledge along with employee feedback data to paint a very compelling picture for leaders who would otherwise have to rely on intuition to make decisions.

According to Meghan O’Brien, People Consultant at S&P Global, their leadership is always interested in data, but in response to COVID-19 there is more intensity and importance placed on the feedback from employees. This intensity and emphasis on the value of employee listening has paid off for the business. Analysis of their COVID-19 survey data showed that for employees new to remote work, there was a relationship between feeling connected to your coworkers and being able to effectively work from home. S&P used what they had learned to quickly develop new channels of communication to keep their remote employees better connected to one another and the direction of the company, including more effective use of their internal digital communication tools to drive stronger social connections that have been displaced as a result of COVID-19

3) Open-ended items provide particularly rich data.

There were several examples of where the qualitative data coming from employee surveys provided value above and beyond what organizations were able to collect with quantitative survey items.

Meredith Vey, Vice President, Organizational Effectiveness at CVS Health, spoke about their approach to surveying using open ended-items: “We used 8 items and had 2 open-ended questions. We asked ‘What support do you need from the organization, and we also asked what concerns do you have about your ability to work safely and effectively?’”

After beginning to analyze the 50,000 open-ended responses, Vey said, “The numerical results were interesting, but the comments were where the really rich data was.”

Vey suggested to ensure that you know the physical location of your employees and account for that as a part of your analysis. Her team found that the most valuable way of separating signal from noise was not by looking at comment data separated by business unit, but by where they work. Themes extracted from open-ended response data became relevant when grouped by associates working from home, which were different when looking at responses of employees leaving home to work in another location.

Meghan O’Brien (S&P Global), spoke about leveraging open-ended questions in order to understand the unique IT and equipment needs of employees working from home, using a single survey to recognize which benefits were the most beneficial, as well as the specific equipment needs of employees new to remote work.

Pete Hudson, Director, Global Talent Management & Development NXP Semiconductors, mentioned that by analyzing open-ended feedback from remote employees, his senior leadership team recognized that caregiving responsibilities were driving difficult experiences for employees in their new remote working arrangements. His team leveraged those insights to quickly produce guidance for employees transitioning to working remote, complete with tools, links to virtual learning, and stress management techniques. As a particularly interesting use case, Hudson also used survey data to gather tips and suggestions from employees with years of remote work experience on how to manage the new work arrangement, disseminating these tips to employees just beginning the transition.

4) Employees need to know that their safety and well-being is valued by the company.

Across all the themes explored in the various feedback surveys utilized by the panelists, one of the most frequent and impactful themes relates to the importance of emphasizing the protection of your employees. Most businesses now have essential workers who require protection. Comcast must keep it’s technicians in the field safe, as does CVS for its retail store and clinic colleagues. S&P Global relies on a significant portion of their workforce to provide valuable financial analysis and reporting. Each of these businesses have essential workers engaged in continued operations throughout the crisis, and there is an expectation from these employees that their safety and well-being is a priority to their organizations.

5) There is no single correct way to listen to your employees. The only wrong choice is to not listen at all.

While the underlying principles behind WHY you should listen to your employees were consistent across companies, it was clear during the discussion that HOW one goes about listening must be thoughtful and deliberate. Every organization is unique, just as the problems and their respective solutions are also unique.

Every organization represented in the panel had to make adjustments to their original survey plans, but each was able to take into account the unique context of their organization and make the necessary adjustments to their listening strategy to bring in data relevant to the events taking place here and now. Perceptyx has provided several complimentary pulse surveys to gather employee feedback during this crisis, yet each was adjusted to meet the unique listening needs of the panelists’ organizations. The changes allowed customization specific to their industry, company size, customer base, means of product distribution, and several other contextual factors.

As one example: Daniel Fiedler, Senior Manager, Employee Engagement Analytics at Comcast, spoke about the feedback culture of the organization, mentioning that although Comcast is delaying their annual employee survey usually run in May, they are still continuing to gather data through an additional bi-monthly pulse used to gather data continuously throughout the year. This time around, Fiedler’s team is fielding the bi-monthly survey with questions borrowed from the Perceptyx series of COVID-19 surveys related to communication effectiveness, working from home, and referral behavior.

6) Certain survey themes in response to COVID-19 are more relevant than others. 

As mentioned previously, there is a tremendous emphasis on safety and well-being in the responses we are seeing from employees, but in addition, there are a few other key themes that are worth careful exploration as one makes the decision of what to ask and where to take action. 

Generally, there are two themes in addition to safety and well-being that are collectively considered the most important parts of the employee experience as we work through the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Communication is key
    • Manager and leader communication
    • Updates on changing priorities and challenges
    • Communication between team members
    • Organization-wide communications, frequency, medium, and tone of messaging from senior leadership
    • Perceptions of reasoning and justification of senior leadership decisions
  • Resources and support
    • IT and equipment support for new remote workers
    • Supporting the unexpected caregiving needs of remote employees
    • Manager support

To put it simply, employees want to be heard. They want to speak up and share what they need to continue moving the business forward. While one might expect loyalty and productivity from their workforce, the workforce expects the same of their employer, and loyalty can be demonstrated by meeting them where they are.

In closing, Sarah Johnson shared this insight:

“Imagine that you have a good friend...and that individual is going through a difficult time: a divorce, a job loss, the death of someone who is close to them. You know they’re struggling, and you don’t know exactly what to say, so you send up saying nothing. What message does that send to your friend? They may think you don’t care, or that you’re tone deaf to what they're going through.”

“If we don’t ask our employees questions, we won’t know what to do to help them, and they’ll come to believe that the company and its leaders don’t care.”

“So...when is the best time to survey employees? Now.”

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Seeing The Way Forward

The Perceptyx platform gives you the flexibility to adapt your listening strategy to rapidly changing real time events. Combined with support from our analytics experts, our platform can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your people’s needs, so you can provide the support they need during these uncertain times. Get in touch to see how we can help your organization navigate successfully through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Questions & Answers from the Discussion

Note: The Q&A below represents those questions that were left unanswered by the end of the discussion. Several other questions still remain unanswered at the time of this post. As we continue to receive answers from panelists, we will update this post accordingly.

Questions Answers
This crisis has been a real disruptor for all organizations and its’ workforces across the world; what is the one key learning that you would like your organization to take forward once we've had a chance to return to the ‘new normal’? [Pete Hudson, NXP] Our leadership and each other really cares about the safety and wellbeing and engagement of our colleagues. We are resilient and can adapt better and faster than we might have ever expected. We have grown closer together and more human(e) through this experience. We can be proud of what we have done together to keep our company going.
For those of you that have colleagues internationally going back to work now…what are you hearing are their concerns and how have you responded to that? [Pete Hudson, NXP] Cautious optimism. Glad to get back into the offices, glad to be able to engage more with customers, we actually can be productive and maintain focus while working remotely and hope to be able to continue to do that on a more ongoing basis when it makes sense.
Would be curious if any of the presenting companies are sharing results with employees and if so, how are they positioning any actions against the results? [Pete Hudson, NXP] We shared a summary of results in an update email from our mt to all our employees, it included a list of actions either already taken, underway, or in progress – that respond directly to what our employees said were needs or concerns in the survey. In the launch of our second pulse this coming Monday, we are re-articulating the results of the first pulse, sharing actions and links and resources, and then encouraging participation in the second pulse
Are panelists planning on regularly pulsing re COVID to see trends over the next few weeks/months or was this a one-time survey? [Pete Hudson, NXP] One pulse in March, same survey in April, same survey in may. Focused on transition to remote working.
Are you all considering how you will transition to 'return to work' and still finding a way to hear from employees? [Pete Hudson, NXP] We are still working on the full and smooth transition to remote working. Some Asia countries are now starting to return. Our factory and lab employees have always continued to work in their designated sites. We are not likely to do anything else from a formal listening/surveying perspective until September 2020 when we intend to run our annual census survey; suspect we may add some content related to the events that have transpired to get a specific read on what people are thinking about this entire remote working scenario. We may have truly transformed ourselves into a more nimble/agile organization that can indeed work productively and remain engaged while working remotely – counter to the grain of our past/current org culture.
Should you survey those who have been laid off? You should consult your legal counsel before making this decision.

The pandemic has already resulted in especially challenging impacts for employees who have been laid off or furloughed, and we should treat these employees with great care and respect. A number of factors can influence the answer to this question, including the quality of the relationship with each individual employee prior to the separation and future plans to rehire some of these employee. Perceptyx is generally supportive of keeping lines of communication open with all employees, learning from their experience and taking action as appropriate. It is also always advisable to consult with your internal law department to ensure organizational alignment on a matter such as this.
Has this situation caused anyone to create or stratify new data elements grouping their data (e.g. "essential v. non-essential," WFH v. In Office, etc.)? If so, are these self identified (asking participants in the survey) or are you creating these new demographics in your HRIS systems to be used consistently and/or in the future? The COVID-19 survey included self-identified demographic questions that captured respondents' primary work environment (Remote vs. other environments) and ability to work remotely (whether work could be performed remotely or not). The Remote Work Survey included demographic questions that captured respondents' primary work location pre-COVID and during COVID and, eventually, post-COVID). Clients are seeing some differences in the experiences of employees who have previously worked remotely and are doing so during COVID-19 versus those who did not work remotely before COVID-19 but are working remotely now. These observed differences suggest that such segmentation will be useful in clients' surveys, even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic timeline.
How long did you all keep your surveys open for? Our clients have taken 2 different approaches. Some are keeping the survey open for only 1 - 2 weeks to take a quick pulse. There are others who are keeping the survey open for an undefined period of time to collect a continual flow of current sentiment from their employees
Are panelists planning on regularly pulsing re COVID to see trends over the next few weeks/months or was this a one-time survey? The Perceptyx reporting dashboards for the COVID-19 and Remote Work surveys were designed with the expectation that clients would want to measure employee opinions over time. Regardless of the length of their survey administration, clients are able to get a real-time view of how employee opinions are changing. Some have noticed that opinions change in response to internal leader communications (e.g., announcement of new benefits or of new hiring) and in response to external factors (such as CDC communications). Clients can decide how long they want to keep their survey open. Some have chosen to keep their surveys open indefinitely, so they can get true continuous listening insights.
Do we know when benchmarking might be available? Benchmarks are available now for the the COVID-19 and Remote Work surveys. These benchmarks will be updated weekly. The currently-available benchmarks are based on data from over 120,000 responses from 7 major industries. Organizations in the database range in size from 2,500 employees to over 100,000 employees. Many respondents are from global organizations.



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