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How keeping employees connected may actually keep them committed

November 10, 2021 - 8 min read

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In Part 1 of this series, we talked about the reasons behind the 200% boost we saw to eNPS, or employer net promoter score — the measure of sentiment, favorability, and loyalty people have towards their employer. 

In short, eNPS hit its highest level BetterUp® has on record in April 2020 because people and organizations responded to shared trauma with genuine empathy, communication, and support. 

For the first time ever in some organizations, leaders acknowledged the Whole Person™ nature of the individuals on their teams and stepped up to help them with their mental and emotional needs. And this compassion engendered strong, positive feelings from their employees. People reported liking their employers twice as much — a pretty unbelievable shift in such a short period of time. 

But what goes up, just came down.

Despite the initial spike early on in the pandemic, eNPS reversed course and has been in a nosedive since the end of 2020. What caused this sudden “about face” in eNPS levels and what, if anything, can employers do about it? 

What the data say

When we examine the drop in eNPS over time, we see a strikingly similar pattern in employees’ reported sense of belonging over the same period.

I have little doubt that those patterns are disentangled from “return to work” issues. As companies move back toward the office, both belonging and eNPS have taken a huge hit.

A whopping 90% of enterprise companies have said that they are adopting hybrid models that include a mix of both remote and in-office work. Many companies have already opened their doors or plan to within the next few months. 

This hybrid approach comes with many positives, including increases in productivity, resilience, and well-being. But it also imposes a "belonging tax" — the isolation, lack of social connection, and absence of shared experiences that remote workers endure in exchange for the convenience and benefits of working outside the office. 

Belonging is critical to job satisfaction, which has a big influence on how you feel about your employer. Research shows that feeling a sense of belonging leads to a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in the risk of employee turnover. Belonging even brings down sick days by 75%. Employees that feel belonging are engaged, happy, and excited to come to work every day.

But employees operating in remote and hybrid arrangements report low feelings of belonging. And this drop in belonging is sinking eNPS. Not having a physical presence in the office full-time can mean missing out on the connections, influence, and visibility required to experience job satisfaction and advancement opportunities. This should serve as a wake-up call to organizations that something drastic needs to happen to keep employees connected and committed. 

What organizations can do

Fortunately for employers, there are steps that can be taken to nurture a sense of belonging at work. In fact, 34% of people feel their greatest sense of belonging at work. The key is to identify and address the challenges that hybrid work poses and adapt your company culture to be more inclusive.

Here are 3 immediate steps companies can take to mitigate the effects of hybrid work and  promote positive sentiment from their employees:


  1. Recognize the benefits, but also the costs of hybrid work

    In many ways, hybrid work arrangements offer the best of both worlds to both companies and their workforces. Employees benefit from increased flexibility and the ability to control work-life balance while organizations benefit from the bump in productivity and lower operating costs. But these perks come at a cost, and it’s worth making those costs explicit so that you can address them.

    Cultivating a sense of connection grows increasingly difficult in a hybrid work arrangement. A low sense of belonging leads to dissatisfied and disengaged employees. In addition to bringing down your eNPS score, disengaged employees are less productive, have higher rates of absenteeism, and can seriously impact your bottom line. It’s estimated that disengaged employees in the US cost companies a whopping $450-500 billion each year. Further, a disconnected employee is that much closer to moving on in pursuit of the next opportunity or a higher paycheck.

    For now, hybrid work arrangements seem to be here to stay. Be deliberate about maximizing the benefits of new work arrangements but be equally deliberate about mitigating the impact of their shortcomings.
  2. Measure and monitor belonging

    Keeping a pulse on how your employees are feeling is critical. Companies can gather employee feedback in a variety of ways. Internal surveys can quickly gather data at scale, but can often hide the fact trouble is brewing. Better insights come from more textured real-time data that shows trajectory more than one-off snapshots.

    Encourage managers to hold regular 1 on 1’s with their direct reports to get a better sense of how people are doing individually. These conversations should not feel like interrogations, but open forums where employees feel comfortable expressing how they are feeling and what they are struggling with. To achieve this atmosphere, managers must build an environment of psychological safety. This requires embracing vulnerability, promoting respect, and fostering candid conversation.
  3. Find and foster new ways to build connection, community, and relationships inside of the organization

    Since the shift to remote work, connection is what employees have missed most during the pandemic. With restrictions still in place in many areas, it can be challenging to think of ways connection and community can be built across distances, but it is definitely possible.

    One strategy is to book times during work hours once or twice a month for your team to connect and just get to know each other better. If you have a mix of both in-person and remote employees, make use of screens so that those dialing feel involved and part of the conversation.

    If it’s possible to meet together in person, organize regular lunches outside of the office (as long as social distancing guidelines are possible). A change of scenery can help people feel more relaxed and willing to share more about themselves.

    Another idea is to start a tradition of coffee chats. Whether in person or over Zoom, encourage employees to reach out to people on other teams or in other departments and learn more about what they do. This encourages cross-team collaboration and can break down internal information silos.

    Whatever you decide, recognize that it takes sustained investment to maintain connection in the hybrid work environment. But it’s an investment that pays dividends.

Promoting belonging is good for business. 

We each have our own challenges and pain. No one has been left completely unscathed by the effects of the pandemic. And yet, we share an inexorable commonality: facing challenge and pain. And when our workplace dials up the sensitivity to that, recognizes it, and responds, it attracts us even further. 

 

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Published November 10, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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