In challenging times like these, it’s impossible to fully understand the impact that individual circumstances might be having on our team members. Whether you have an official HR role, or are simply taking the charge with HR within your organization, it’s important to check-in on employees to understand how they’re doing – and what you might be able to do to better support them.
But how can you check-in with employees without directly asking them how they are all the time? Particularly, for more introverted employees, this can be confronting and you may not get the insights you seek.
To help with this, we’ve put together 6 different ways you can check-in on employees…
1) Use Employee Surveys or Pulse Checks
If you regularly survey employees, it can be a good idea to signal that this survey has a different purpose. You might try getting employees to indicate how much they agree or disagree with statements such as;
- I am satisfied with the way the company is handling internal communications during this time.
- I feel like I can take time for myself during the workday.
- I have the flexibility to adjust my work schedule to accommodate my caregiving needs.
- I feel supported by my manager during these times.
- I am maintaining and building meaningful connections with my colleagues during this time.
- I believe senior management has shown genuine concern and care for employees during this time.
Think about whether to run these anonymously or not. Clearly, you’ll be likely to get better information if they’re anonymous, but they’ll be less actionable as you may not know where to target your efforts.
Tip! Create your own employee surveys or pulse checks using the Custom Forms in HR Partner. These can be anonymous (or not) and you can download the results to get a quick gauge on employee sentiment. You can also use them to collect more detailed feedback and ideas too.
2) Hold Regular One-on-One Meetings
Hopefully your firm is already doing this, but it pays to remind all managers about your expectations around the frequency for holding one-on-one meetings with each of their team members. When things get busy or stressful, one-on-one meetings are often pushed aside as they’re not deemed as urgent. But once the cadence is interrupted, people can be reluctant to get them back on track and unfortunately, the cumulative impact is significant.
One-on-one meetings are one of the basic tools of management and should be used to discuss;
- Specific projects
- Individual sentiment and stress levels
Using these meetings, many managers develop trademark ways of honing on employee sentiment by asking questions like;
- On a scale from 1 to 5, where are you today / this week?
- How are you coping personally with everything at the moment?
- What’s a “kicked ass” and a “kicked my ass” for you this week? Work-related OR Personal?
- What’s one thing we could change about work that would help you outside of work?
Or you might try looking for more subtle clues by asking things like;
- What are you looking forward to this week?
- What are your plans for the weekend?
- How is your family coping with everything?
There’s a fine line between snooping, and caring enough to ask personal questions, but if you keep the questions open-ended enough, you should sense how much the employee is willing to share. The goal here is to demonstrate that the door is open.
3) Introduce Skip-Level Meetings
You may not have heard of “skip-level” meetings, but these essentially refer to senior managers scheduling one-on-one meetings with the direct reports of their direct reports (ie employees 2 or more levels below).
These provide many benefits including;
- Getting a greater understanding of what’s really happening within the organization
- Gauging the effectiveness of your managers
- Getting a feeling for company morale and sentiment
- Giving employees an opportunity to voice concerns to more higher levels of management
Skip-level meetings don’t need to be anywhere near as frequent as regular one-on-one meetings, but instead, you might establish a system where every senior manager does two of these a week, rotating through team members. It might seem like a big time commitment, but if your team is really that important to you, it will be time well spent.
You can read more here for a full explanation of how skip-level meetings work and the practicalities of introducing them to your company.
4) Model Vulnerability
Perhaps the hardest part of all of this, but something that needs to be woven into absolutely everything, is the need for leaders to model vulnerability. As Brené Brown says;
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
As leaders, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of our own behaviors on our teams. After all, how can we really expect employees to open up to us about their struggles, if we haven’t shown them that it’s safe to do so?
So how does this actually look? Of course, there are thousands of options here, but some ideas could be;
- To share in a meeting something you’re struggling with. For example, this might mean being upfront about some personal or family issues, or some mental health challenges you’re facing.
- Describe how you’re personally feeling about something at the moment. Not just on a surface level, but using an emotional vocabulary that shows how something is impacting you.
- Talk about your own self-doubts and worries. Even expressing that sharing your insecurities out loud feels uncomfortable and weird, but you want others to know what’s going on, and you expect that if you’re feeling a certain way, others might be too.
- Focus on being an active listener and try to feed back to the team the sentiment that you’re hearing or sensing. Show that you’re empathetic and see if what you say is resonating.
- Let team members know when you’re taking some time off for mental health or to handle a family situation. This lets them know that they can do the same too.
5) Encourage Social Interactions
For teams that previously worked in person together and are now remote, they may think that every meeting or call needs to be purely business. In reality, you want your team members to continue to maintain and build strong bonds together so try to find ways to build social interactions into the weekly rhythm.
We’ve previously shared some ideas for employee engagement for remote workers, but think about things like introducing;
- An end-of-week social session – yes, it might still be on Zoom, but it has a different vibe if you encourage people to introduce their family members, relax with a beverage or snacks, and discuss their plans for the weekend.
- “Getting to know you” themes for your messaging platforms. These can be things like; share a pic of your lunch today, share what you’re currently watching on TV, share a pic of your working setup today, etc.
- Encourage pairing up for projects and responsibilities. While it can feel simpler to work alone sometimes, the reality is that two heads are usually better than one, and moreover, people get more satisfaction from working together than in isolation. Find opportunities for this to happen within the scope of your work.
6) Create a Wellness Focus
Depending on your company, you might want to formally introduce, or remind employees of, a mental-health or wellness program. This might include a certain leave allowance that all employees have to take time off to care for themselves without needing to explain themselves further.
You might already have this in place, but right now might be a great time to remind team members to use their days, give them ideas as to what they could do on their time off (read a book, get a health checkup, sleep-in, talk on the phone with family, clean out a cupboard, or just binge Netflix).
You might also set mini-challenges among employees to encourage everyone to stay healthy. These could be things like;
- 15 minute of yoga a day
- 10,000 steps a day
- Increasing sleep by 30 minutes each day
- Learning to meditate for 10 minutes a day
- Eating more vegetable servings a day, etc
You could just talk about these things and have them as a focus for the month, or perhaps you could gamify these challenges and encourage employees to check-in with their results.
Checking-in on your team can seem difficult, but there are different ways to keep the focus on employees and demonstrate that you care. Try focusing on one of these areas for a month each and see if it doesn’t have a noticeable effect on employee morale.
These are challenging times for all of us and while we can’t fix everything, the more insights we have into what is going on, the better placed we’ll be to support our employees.