New communications effort helps Horizon North boost engagement through COVID-19
By Cindy McArthur
Employee engagement has been defined as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”
At Dexterra and Horizon North, our focus in maintaining employee engagement has been based on what we believe to be excellent communication strategies using various media, involving all levels of management to support our key messages and ensuring there are opportunities for two-way feedback and dialogue.
We work hard to build trust through our commitment to our values — to a respectful, diverse and inclusive workplace; to internal and external communities; and with transparency in our communications.
The COVID-19 pandemic challenged our ability to maintain our communications and continue to build trust.
We had employees who, because of their job had to continue to work; we had those who were asked to work from home and, unfortunately, we had employees that had to be laid off.
We needed to have effective ways to enable our communications and continue the strong relationships between our front-line employees and our management team.
Then, in May — in the middle of the pandemic — we announced a merger that created a company that almost doubled in size, with expanded operations across Canada, a greater array of facilities and workforce camp management services and with capabilities in manufacturing modular structures.
On top of the emotional challenges of COVID, we added the emotional challenges of a merger — worries about “my future,” worries about restructuring and the most common question: “Will I still have a job?”
‘Powered by People’
Recognizing that such an environment is ripe for a dip in employee engagement, we began looking at strategies and creative ways not only to maintain engagement, but to strengthen it.
One of our ideas was “Powered by People” — a short bi-weekly dialogue between the chief human resources officer and one of our employees.
The episodes take five minutes to discuss the employee’s job, what’s enjoyable about it, how the employee got into that type of work, what is takes to be successful in it and more.
Then, we broadcast that discussion across the organization to connect people who work in various parts of the country and to recognize the contributions of our staff in a wide variety of roles.
The feedback has been extremely positive, and it has become a great recognition tool.
One of the employees who participated commented: “It was great to chat with you… I was thrilled and a little nervous… I’m only hoping the video does its job and attracts new candidates for positions such as mine.”
We had some concerns that our management team might worry that employees watching the videos may want to apply for a position such as the one being highlighted. But instead, an unexpected benefit has been positive feedback and further connectivity from a member of our senior management team to the employee who was interviewed.
Enhanced communications efforts
While “Powered by People” will continue, we are already looking at ways to enhance this new communications vehicle.
Certainly, we have the opportunity to speak more frequently to our employees and to expand the concept. For example, we may speak with employees who continue to work from home to hear about the positives and negatives of their experiences, so that others can learn.
We may also feature more than one employee from a particular location so that they might carry on their own conversation about their work. And we may move the conversations into our management team so that employees can understand more about work at the management level.
It is always a difficult to maintain and improve employee engagement in a time of rapid change both inside the workplace and outside. But we found a way to do so even in the middle of a pandemic and a merger.
The challenges of both the pandemic and merger will continue for us. But our employee engagement is on a solid footing, which is a great foundation for now and into the future.
Cindy McArthur is the chief human resources officer at Horizon North Logistics in Mississauga, Ont.
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