Surprise! Majority of Small Business Employees Feel Engaged at Work During COVID-19

Despite the workplace challenges brought on by the 2020 pandemic, employees report feeling valued. Communication may be suffering though, and many prefer better tools and processes to facilitate collaboration.

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It’s been 5 months since COVID-19 has forced small businesses across the United States to quickly pivot the way they conduct business. Employees transitioned from working in an office to working at home, business models changed to accommodate evolving customer needs (online ordering, contactless delivery, social distance shopping), and human resource leaders attempted to act fast to address the needs of their employees.

In addition, the ways employers relate to their staff has dramatically changed. Five months in, we wanted to check in with small business employers to see how they are feeling, and what business owners could do to create a positive working environment (whether it’s remote or in-person).

For a closer look at how employees are handling work life while navigating COVID, we surveyed more than 700 employees of small businesses for their perspective on how they feel about their job, their work culture, and the employee experience.

Employees report feeling “excited” and “proud” at work

Despite the recent upheaval associated with working in a pandemic, 36% of respondents said they felt “very excited” about their job, and 35% said they felt “somewhat excited.” Only 8% of employees said they weren’t excited about their role. 21% were neutral.

Employers who choose to create a positive working environment are more likely to see less employee turnover or attrition. In fact, 95% of HR leaders admit that employee burnout is a problem in their company, which the World Health Organization has classified as a workplace hazard.

Employees surveyed are overwhelmingly proud of their employers — 92% of respondents answered “yes” when asked if they were proud to work for their company, and 90% of respondents said they would recommend their company to a friend or family members as an employer.

Employee Engagement Graphic1

Despite the pandemic, workers are engaged and feel valued

Employees are also engaged with the work that they do:

  • 93% of respondents feel their work contributes to the success of their organization
  • 84% said their employer valued their opinions
  • 74% said they are satisfied with their current compensation and benefits package
  • 76% said they feel their employer cares about them as a person

Respondents indicated open communication, a comprehensive benefit package, and employee recognition as the top reasons they feel valued.

Survey responses from US employees

  • “My employer is flexible with our individual situations,” one respondent said. “We can take time off as needed, and we don’t have to request months in advance. Right now with the pandemic, we’re allowed to work remote.
  • “There is no rush to get us back in the office. We can safely make our own decisions.” 
  • “My company doesn’t treat me like a number.” 
  • “They know and understand that I’m human and that perfection isn’t always attainable, but are genuinely understanding and willing to work with me.” 
  • “[My employer] spends individualized time with each employee, really making sure we know what we’re doing and that there isn’t anything that needs to be addressed.” 
  • “My employer recognizes when I’m successful and appreciates when I go over and above.” 
  • “They check in with my mental state and offer their support.” 
  • “They have good benefits with matching contributions.” 
  • “They are letting employees work from home during COVID.” 

Feeling isolated, employees crave interaction with their employers

Just because employees say they are engaged at work doesn’t mean business owners and HR managers shouldn’t constantly listen to and measure their employees’ feedback and requests.

Almost a quarter (23%) of respondents said they feel lonely at work. When broken down by age, we found that employees ages 18 to 45 indicated they were lonely (27%), while employees aged 45 to 64 feel less lonely (17%).

The top reasons?

  • My job is physically isolated from my colleagues (39%)
  • I work alone (36%)
  • My colleagues don’t socialize (23%)
  • Our company culture doesn’t foster collaboration (16%)
  • The office/workspace is kept quiet (19%)

081920_Employee Engagement Graphics - Lonely at Work_081020_081020

There’s a benefit to tracking performance and building relationships

Employees want tools and processes that allow two way communication between their supervisor, the company and themselves. Feedback tools help foster communication, and strengthen the boss / employee relationship that is necessary for employees to be happy and remain productive.

Employees feel they know what is needed to meet their goals and objectives (92%), but 27% of respondents said their company doesn’t track their performance.

Respondents said that their performance management system from HR helps them:

  • Obtain feedback on their performance (58%)
  • Grow their skills as an employee (57%)
  • Create a dialogue between them and their direct supervisor (49%)
  • Track their progress against predetermined goals (47%)
  • Advance their career in the company (37%)

When asked about how their direct manager or supervisor helps them stay engaged:

  • 87% of respondents said they get the support needed to complete their work
  • 83% said they get enough individual attention

When we asked employees to describe their relationship with their direct manager or supervisor, respondents said:

  • “I have a good relationship with my supervisor,” one respondent said. “We help each other to make sure the work gets completed properly.” 
  • “I can ask anything and get answers when I need them,” another said. 
  • “[My manager] is very disrespectful,” one employee said. “He often does not credit anyone for their hard work.”
  • “I feel it’s difficult to discuss how I feel with my supervisor,” one respondent said. “Suggestions or complaints often go unheard or heard without resolution. I often feel unseen at work.” 

Employee Engagement Graphic2

Majority of employees don’t participate in surveys from HR, and seek information from employee handbooks to guide them through the workplace pandemic policies

The majority (56%) of employees DON’T participate in HR surveys, the top tool to gauge employee engagement. The top reason? Their company doesn’t offer surveys.

Employees also said they look to their employee handbooks as a source of information, especially since COVID-19 upended workplace policy. Almost half (41%) of employees have referred to the hand book in the last 6 months. Only 13% of employees admitted they never read it, with 14% of employees saying they haven’t looked at it since their first day on the job.

67% of employees find employee handbooks useful and look to them for policy, but almost half (48%) of employees have not received an updated handbook since COVID-19. The majority (67%) of employees feel like their handbook SHOULD be updated since COVID-19 to reflect new work standards in light of the pandemic.

Employee Engagement

Methodology and limitations

We surveyed 740 people via SurveyGizmo from July 28 to 30, about employee engagement. The participants are employees of small- to medium-sized businesses, defined as companies with 4 to 499 employees. Of all the surveyed participants, 52% identified as male and 48% identified as female. Respondents ranged in age from 17 to 65.

The main limitation of the study is its reliance on self-reported data. Issues with self-reported responses include, but aren’t limited to, exaggeration, selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and recency bias.

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