After Three Years of Crisis, What Will Keep Employees Engaged and Motivated?

BY Tania Rahman | May 31, 2023

Over the past three years, workers have had to learn how to adapt and build new skills in order to succeed in a constantly changing work environment. In the aftermath of the pandemic, this same workforce is now experiencing extensive burnout. Now, organizations are tasked with finding ways to help their employees exit survival mode, through means of building an inclusive culture that supports a sense of employee engagement.

During a panel discussion at From Day One's Brooklyn conference, moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, a group of panelists offered their perspective on how their business is renewing a sense of meaning among its employees.

Widespread Employee Burnout

According to Dale Cook, co-founder and CEO of Learn to Live, people often think in two ways when it comes to burnout.

“There’s the external forces that we all experience, heavy deadlines, heavy workloads, life pressures. There’s [also] the internal side of how we manage those things on a day to day basis.”

He said that when his organization works with partners, they tend to focus on the internal side: the things that are within their control, like reframing mental health, and providing the right tools at the right time. Cook cites his own experience struggling with mental health in college and his access to mental health services as a key influence on his company’s mode of helping others do the same to manage their burnout.

And yet, Lydia points out that frontline managers are often the ones truly shouldering much of the burden as they watch their teams get burned out. The key to combating this and building stronger relationships with employees, Dale said, lies in a manager’s ability to be vulnerable with one’s own mental health journey.

One of the biggest shifts that Liz Pittinger sees as head of customer success at Stork Club is in the transparency behind communicating any strategic decision-making for the sake of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She points to how fertility journeys and menopause are silent stressors that contribute to burnout. These are aspects of health care that Stork Club incorporated into its benefits portfolio.

The critical aspect here is how these decisions are shared to the organization at large, so that people have an understanding as to why certain health care benefits are necessary.

Engaging the Workforce

A simple change in scenery could be the key driver in building engagement among employees.

At MasterCard, Charman Hayes highlights the value of in-person connection with colleagues. As EVP of people and capability, technology, Hayes helps underpin activities like volunteering, mentorship, game engagement, and learning and development to fulfill human connectivity.

“It's been a great opportunity since we've come out of our basements and our bedrooms.”

Noting MasterCard’s goal in using technology to bring people together, Charman indicated that human connection can be tastefully met in person where it matters, and they can also be met virtually.

Giving employees a sense of purpose through social impact programs is a priority at NBCUniversal. Jessica Clancy, who serves as SVP of corporate social responsibility, said the media company’s Talent Lab allows employees to be “nominated for a learning experience that wraps around inclusive leadership, the principles and values we care about at NBC, and integrates it with social impact.”

The full panel of speakers, pictured, discussed how they are focusing on engagement, inclusion, and motivation within their organizations (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)

Clancy said that having employees “not just participating in community service, but actively working on leadership development alongside young people from that community” is an important differentiator.

“It really helps employees to think about the skills around empathy, listening, inclusivity that they are practicing in the community, and that they’re going to bring back to the job,” she said.

From a leadership perspective, ensuring employee engagement is often personal.

“I feel a very deep sense of responsibility to ensure that we are positively impacting lives, whether it's other employees in the organization, fans, especially in the community more broadly,” said Jane Son, co-head of foundation and community engagement at the New York Mets.

Encouraging Empathy and Inclusion in the Organization

According to Dale, isolation is one of the leading issues for mental health. “As much as we’ve advanced our conversation together around destigmatizing mental health, it’s still the number one barrier for people in the workforce that often translates into fear of discrimination.”

To combat potential discrimination, his organization offers programs and services that are completely private and confidential.

For Stork Club, the path to effective inclusion in their mission is simple: reduce the cost of health care.

“Every single day, we're dealing with people who are desperate to start a family or not, who don't know if they can financially afford it. When we promote empathy, we start with the member experience,” said Liz.

“When our care navigations share member stories with us, we’re getting the celebrations, the picture of their newborns, and we convey that back to the customer and through the entire company to make sure everyone understands and feels connected to what our purposes are.”

Discovering the Next Steps in Professional Development

Often, a natural transition from volunteering in the workplace is finding an opportunity to utilize new skills and apply it to positions of leadership, development, and service. This makes internal initiatives like that of NBCUniversal and MasterCard useful for those in leadership to recognize when an individual wants to evolve to the next stage in skill building.

“Leaders can talk about the skills they need for projects, and employees can share that they want to build on and develop those skills,” said Charman. “We add this into our talent review process which translates into human resources.”

At Learn to Live, there is a strong belief that acts of service is an important part of a mental health journey.

“What I'm intrigued about is that interconnection between best practices, community service, and skills building, coupled with how people are working on themselves at the same time. That intersection is something worth exploring for organizations,” said Dale.

Tania Rahman is a native New Yorker who works at the intersection of digital marketing and tech. She enjoys writing both news stories and fiction, hot chocolate on cold days, reading, live music, and learning new things.


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