Post by: Jim Boomer, CEO
We’ve officially passed the one-year mark for when the COVID-19 pandemic really started to impact most people’s daily lives in the U.S. People are getting vaccinated and starting to resume some activities they’d put on hold for months – including returning to the office. And yet, we know it’s not business as usual. In the past year, people on your team may have dealt with a loved one’s death, unemployment, illness, anxiety, childcare difficulties, trying to balance homeschooling with remote work, and a number of other issues, complexities and distractions.
We may see the end of the pandemic on the horizon, but it’s still important to look for ways to maintain a strong connection with your team so they can navigate challenges and remain healthy and productive. To ensure you continue to support your people in the coming year, try these five ideas to connect with your team and boost engagement.
1. Recognize the signs of poor engagement
Firm leaders need to understand the signs of poor engagement to address the issue before it becomes a crisis.
These signs can include:
Poor attendance at remote meetings
A negative attitude toward work
Conflicts with coworkers or clients
Lack of enthusiasm and follow-through on projects
Don’t assume that because you haven’t heard any complaints, things are going well. People may be quiet because they don’t feel comfortable talking about their problems. Firm leaders need to make an effort to find out how people are doing – either by talking to people directly or via anonymous surveys – and take steps to help people re-engage.
2. Provide extra support
A supportive firm culture is always important, but even more so when people are dealing with added stress and uncertainty. When people are worried about their jobs, family, health or other concerns, they disengage.
Provide extra resources to support your people and help keep them engaged in their jobs. Some ideas include:
Scheduling frequent, one-on-one check-ins with people to ask how they’re doing and how you can better support them
Ensuring everyone is aware of and utilizing your firm’s mental health benefits, wellness program and Employee Assistance Program
Sharing additional resources for people experiencing anxiety or other problems
By caring for your team, you give them the headspace to care for your clients.
3. Communicate transparently
According to a Gallup poll, only 39% of U.S. employees strongly agree that their employer communicated a clear plan of action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 48% strongly agreed that their immediate supervisor kept them informed about what was going on in the organization as it relates to the pandemic’s impact.
It’s human nature for people to expect the worst when they believe the firm is withholding information. People can’t feel a sense of calm or connection to the firm when they don’t perceive firm leaders as transparent.
In the early days of the pandemic, you may have made an extra effort to communicate with your team. Don’t let those efforts fall by the wayside now. Continue to keep people informed about what’s happening and how you’re responding to ongoing changes.
Some firm leaders attempt to minimize risks in order to ease people’s fears, but that can backfire. Your people are smart – that’s why you hired them – and they will see through any sugarcoating of the truth. So continue to share information about the firm and its progress toward strategic goals. Emphasize how your team members play a role in those initiatives. This will help people feel a sense of control over the situation and greater optimism about the future.
4. Continue to focus on professional development
Many firms have struggled to build professional development into their remote culture in the past year, yet it’s one of the best ways to improve employee engagement and retention. Lack of career development is one of the main reasons employees leave.
Many firms will continue to have remote team members and hybrid workspaces in the future, and it’s important to create an effective learning and development program for your distributed team.
Talk to people about their career goals and what the firm can do to support them. Help people align their career goals with the firm’s strategic plan.
Over the past year, opportunities for virtual learning have exploded. While many people complain of “Zoom fatigue,” I believe this can be overcome as long as the virtual learning opportunities are engaging and valuable. Allow people to select the training and development programs that interest them and align with their goals. Don’t put professional development on hold until everyone is back in the office. That will only prevent your firm and your people from moving forward and focusing on the future.
5. Lead by example
It’s easy to tell people they should take care of themselves, take time off, and seek work/life balance. But if firm leaders aren’t modeling those behaviors themselves, employees are less likely to take the advice.
Firm leaders aren’t invulnerable to stress and burnout. We’re all more effective workers and leaders when we take care of ourselves.
Setting an example for your team will profoundly affect how your staff values their own mental health and well-being. Be a role model by turning off your computer at a reasonable hour, getting enough sleep, taking time off and making time for fun inside and outside of work.
Remember, your people have many of the same concerns you have about their future and physical and mental well-being. Be proactive in addressing their concerns and supporting them. Then you can ensure they’re able to bring their best self to work.
Is your team aligned with a focused strategic plan and a strong vision for the future?
We can help provide your firm with clarity and understanding so that you can focus on the right objectives at the right time. Complete a Strategic Planning interest form and one of our Solutions Advisors will reach out to schedule a call.
Jim Boomer, CEO of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is an expert on managing technology within an accounting firm. He serves as the director of the Boomer Technology Circles, The Advisor Circle and the CIO Circle. He also acts as a strategic planning and technology consultant and firm adviser to CPA firms across the country. Accounting Today called him a “thought leader who can help accountants create next-generation firms.” Jim is a prolific writer with a monthly column in The CPA Practice Advisor and has been published in a number of industry publications including Accounting Today, Accounting Web, the International Group of Accounting Firms and several state society publications.