Think about the past three months: The world has undergone a massive health crisis. A social revolution is marching for equality in the streets. Organizations have pivoted to remote workforces nearly instantaneously — creating friction in normal working rhythms. Virtual work has increased the need for self-direction and self-motivation amongst employees. Remote working has created a gap in the social connectivity that typically strengthens relationships in the workplace. Company values have been called to the carpet without the benefit of in-person interaction. Inevitably, such disruption has caused some level of angst amongst every worker. All of this has put a spotlight on company culture and employee engagement. It’s no surprise that many of the world’s best companies are also on the “best places to work” lists. As famed business consultant Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Now is the time for organizations to invest in one of their most important audiences: employees. This is an opportunity to apply an organization’s marketing muscle to ensure that employees are energized to help create new paths for success.
Here are three ideas to consider for building business success from the inside out.
Engage employees in your brand.
Brands readily invest in finding new ways to engage consumers in their brand and its purpose. But right now, employees may be the ones who need the biggest reminder about why they work
for you, their bigger mission beyond their day-to-day work, and the values that drive the organization. This goes beyond just talking about brand purpose — to activating it.
Zillow understands the emotional connections associated with moving. Not only in our “homes,” but in what moving often represents: pivotal moments where new beginnings are unlocked. Even before COVID, they’d invested in building interactive and tactile experiences within their offices where employees could “pin” the locations where the key stories of their lives were unlocked. This experience-turned-permanent-installation gave employees a way to connect with one another, but also served as a living reminder of what Zillow does for their customers every day. Now, in the midst of this surge in remote work, the challenge is how to digitize this experience in a way that maintains its power and humanity.
This is the time to consider a shift in marketing dollars inside your own walls. Employees can be your biggest brand ambassadors right now. A brand that’s all about perseverance might open the dialogue for employees to share how they are persevering today, or how they have persevered in their lives to become who they are today. Or a brand that’s focused on unleashing creativity may challenge your own employees to showcase theirs and create a collective art piece out of the submissions. Regardless of where the brand is rooted, offer them ways to connect to and participate in your brand’s story. Chances are they’ll then share it with others.
Advocate for mental health.
Pre-COVID, businesses experienced an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity each year due to depression and anxiety. Yet mental health is still a topic that still carries a stigma — particularly in the workplace. Prior to COVID-19, 68% of people worried that reaching out about a mental health issue could negatively impact their job security. And while 86% of people thought a company’s culture should support mental health, less than half felt mental health was prioritized at their company.
Now consider the effects of COVID on all of that. Recent studies have shown increases in anxiety attributed to worry about everything from the virus itself, to job security, and now, social unrest. Additionally, quarantine situations have caused increases in depression and loneliness.
This is an opportunity for employers to flip the script on mental health. Offering access to platforms like TalkSpace, HeadSpace, and the like are important starts. In fact, Starbucks recently revealed that more than 68,000 North American employees within their organization actively use HeadSpace to help them deal with recent stressors. But beyond these services, consider investing in programs within your organization that actively involve employees in understanding that “it’s okay to not be okay.” Consider internal engagement programs that uncover the prevalence of mental health issues, acknowledging that mental health is not just “one thing,” and that all types of cognitive and emotional well-being need to be discussed. Whether it’s a speaker series or a digital engagement program, the possibilities for opening and maintaining a dialogue on the importance of mental health are endless.
Find moments for optimism.
Just three months ago the world looked incredibly different, and yet businesses and brands are being challenged to forecast and plan for three months from now. Such a level of uncertainty creates tension and disruptions in productivity and engagement.
Despite these challenges, this is also a time to find ways of sharing and creating moments of optimism within your organization. Vox has created a daily story time for parents and kids, offering a bright spot in the day. In our own company, we engage everyone in developing a Friday Playlist with themes based on moods, world events, or employee suggestions. It’s a way of using music to share, communicate, and enjoy together.
Think about how to celebrate an accomplishment of your company to date — even if it’s small. Share a reflection on other times the brand has overcome adversity in its history. Or just consider a themed day in which every employee can engage to just have some fun. Above all, take the time to just listen. Some cues may be loud, others may be much more subtle. Inclusivity is critical, so find ways to make sure employees are being heard, seen, and valued. Don’t just respond at the surface, look for unifying trends, behaviors, and emotions being shared across the organization. Find points of empathy.
These are unprecedented times that change and evolve by the day. Now is the time to apply strategic and creative thinking inside your own walls to protect and engage your most valuable asset: your people.