In the past six months, tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, and a large portion are still unemployed.

For those who still have jobs, most companies have successfully made the transition to remote-first work. That begs the question: What does this mean for company culture and employee engagement?

To find out, employee voice and recognition platform Achievers recently released its 2020 Culture Report, which surveyed more than 1,100 employed individuals, from junior contributors to the C-suite, in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia, to uncover how employers have reacted to the crisis and what factors organizations must adopt to continue adapting through the future.

The report found that nearly half (40 percent) of employees do not feel recognized for the work they have done during the pandemic. This could be why, according to Monster, 85 percent of currently employed Americans are still looking for a job amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

So what can organizations do to make employees feel supported as the pandemic continues to take a toll on workplace culture?

Align decision making with company values 

Cultural alignment, or decision making in alignment with company values, has decreased during the pandemic. According to the report, one-third of leaders found their strategic decisions were very aligned with company values pre-pandemic; however, that dropped an alarming 20 percent during Covid-19. The report uncovered a similar drop (23 percent) in alignment for budget decisions during the pandemic.

"The results of this study highlighted the reality that many companies have struggled with maintaining cultural alignment through the pandemic," said Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers. "Without question, leaders have had to make many difficult business decisions over the past six months. Difficult decisions cannot be avoided during a crisis, but ensuring that employees understand how overarching company values have been incorporated during decision making, or acknowledging the lack of alignment and providing context as to why, serves to maintain employee engagement during challenging times. Navigating a clear path to decision making through shared company values allows leaders to create culturally consistent responses and actions that allow employees to feel more supported and better connected to their organization, regardless of the external forces at play."

The silver lining through the past six months is that work flexibility became 20 percent more aligned during the pandemic. The growth allows us to infer that remote and flexible work options have always been aligned with company values, but companies were not implementing them to the extent that employees needed.

Gather honest feedback

During times of crisis, strong leaders will look for ways to understand and address employee concerns. However, companies are not able to implement action plans that address real employee needs unless they truly understand employee concerns and feedback. Achievers' report found that three-quarters (77 percent) of employees would be more honest in a survey than in a conversation with a manager. However, just over one in five (21 percent) companies conduct an engagement survey more than once a year.

Organizations that only engage their employees in surveys once a year or less may be missing an opportunity to uncover how employees are feeling and the concerns that should be addressed within the company. Employee sentiment can change quickly, especially during a crisis, and without understanding where employees feel improvement is needed it's nearly impossible to create solutions that keep them feeling engaged and supported. 

Prioritize what employees need most

According to the research, less than a quarter (23 percent) of employees reported feeling very well supported since the beginning of the outbreak. This is particularly true for managers, with less than one in five (19 percent) feeling very supported. When asked what would make employees feel more supported during Covid-19, these are the top three responses employees gave:

  • Appreciation for their contributions
  • Better work-life balance
  • Better support for health and well-being

More than a third (35 percent) of employees want more appreciation for their work. However, this appreciation does not only need to come in the form of manager recognition. The research proved peer-to-peer recognition has a clear tie to engagement. Nearly half (47 percent) of employees who had received peer-to-peer recognition in the previous week felt very engaged. This is compared with 30 percent of employees who had received peer-to-peer recognition in the past month and 17 percent of employees who had received peer-to-peer recognition in the past six months.

As remote work continues into 2021 for many companies, it's time for leaders to reevaluate how they are addressing culture, providing support to employees during the pandemic, and refining their strategies to retain employees in the new year.