Staffing issues are among the most acute challenges that distributors face in the wake of a pandemic. As the distribution and B2B marketplace continues to grow at a record pace, employees find themselves with greater opportunities to find work elsewhere. Employee engagement is more critical than ever, and more companies are finding that it’s not enough to listen to your customers. You need to be listening to your employees, as well.
Over the past 25 years, our team has conducted many employee engagement surveys, but we’ve seen interest rapidly rising of late. COVID-19 regulations and lockdowns created unforeseen conflicts between employer and employees, most notably the debate over working from home or at the office.
Generational differences in attitude towards work ethic and work-life balance have only added to tensions between management and the front-line. Companies who take the time to get objective, confidential feedback from their team members find themselves with an advantage. They can quickly shift to address the most important pain-points and create effective strategies for increasing employee satisfaction so that retention remain strong.
What the Data Says About Employee Engagement
Data from employee engagement research reveal that specific pain points and employee issues can vary widely from company to company. One recent project conducted for a distribution client found that compensation was an elephant in the room, but that’s not common. You might be surprised to know that money is rarely at the top of employee mindshare when it comes to their satisfaction. That’s why it’s crucial to create a regular feedback loop for your team members. You never know what you might be missing – that’s why they’re called “blind spots.”
At the same time, our data reveal common issues among the top employee concerns. In each case, the pandemic has only made the challenge harder for employers. Let’s take a look at five of them.
1. Lack of Communication
Almost every customer service issue is rooted in miscommunication or lack of communication. The same can be said of employee satisfaction. Team members often feel their bosses and supervisors do not communicate effectively and/or as frequently as they would like.
In some cases, it’s a lack of vision that leaves employees feeling unmotivated or inspired. In other cases, team members don’t feel they get enough feedback regarding their performance, or they simply wish they had more regular conversations with the person to whom they report.
Communication issues have only gotten worse during the pandemic as work shifted to home offices and social distancing intensified feelings of isolation.
2. Poor Leadership
One of the consequences of a tight labor market is that inexperienced and/or less-qualified employees find themselves thrust into managerial roles for which they are unprepared. Even in the best of times the business world struggles to develop young managers and leaders. The struggle has only gotten worse in the past three years.
Many employees complain about their bosses’ lack of leadership skills. They may feel that the individuals to whom they directly report are aloof, indecisive, micromanagers, or else they fail to provide clear direction and support.
One manufacturing and distribution employee recently shared with me what he perceived to be a glaring difference between the employee engagement the top executive promised to employees and what his direct manager delivers. “They created an expectation that my supervisor is incapable of meeting,” she told me before adding, “but there’s no accountability.” An employee engagement survey revealed extremely low confidence ratings in those who occupied the C-suite.
One common technique in Employee Engagement Surveys is to ask managers to evaluate their own performance across several specific dimensions of manager-employee relationships. Employees are then asked to rate the manager on the same dimensions. It is not unusual for data to reveal tremendous disparities between what managers think of their own performance and how team members rate those managers on the same relational dimensions.
3. Unfair Treatment
It’s not unusual for employees to express feelings of being treated unfairly, but the pandemic has created unique and unprecedented challenges:
- Workers forced, or who have chosen, to work from home suddenly find that colleagues working in the office have more direct communication with managers and executives who are also in the office.
- Remote team members feel left out, diminished or sense that their internal team members have an unfair advantage.
These situations are new wrinkles to common complaints of unfair treatment such as unequal pay, favoritism, or discrimination.
4. Lack of Recognition
Our team presents clients with recognition of excellence in service quality based on data from our research and quality assessments. It’s something we enjoy doing as we celebrate their success and recognize their hard work of putting data into meaningful action.
During the pandemic we were, of course, forced to meet with clients online to make presentations via video. We’d hold up the award to the camera and let our client know it would arrive in the mail. It just wasn’t the same. We eventually put-off some of these presentations until we could meet with clients in person.
Lack of recognition has always been a common employee complaint, but this is yet another struggle intensified by remote work and social distancing. They made what was already challenging even harder. Team members were suddenly both out-of-sight and out-of-touch, which meant it was more likely they were also out-of-mind for managers.
5. Poor Work-Life Balance
Staffing challenges translate directly into productivity challenges, especially as ecommerce spurs record sales and distributors scramble to meet increased demand with an often-decreasing number of team members. Fewer employees trying to keep up with increased workloads can lead to employees feeling they’re unable to maintain a good work-life balance. Long hours lead to stress and burnout. Employees may also feel they are not being given enough flexibility to manage their work and personal responsibilities.
In discussing a potential employee engagement survey with one client recently, they expressed a desire to get direct feedback from employees regarding the perks and benefits they’ve heard about other employers providing. They desired getting a handle on the incentives that competitors may be using to lure team members away.
Over the past three years, the pandemic has created a perfect storm for a lot of B2B companies, especially in the distribution sector. Business grew along with demand while unprecedented challenges emerged in workplace safety and staffing.
Companies who make the investment in providing team members with an opportunity to provide objective and confidential feedback have a greater likelihood of:
- Addressing the most common frustrations their employees are feeling
- Discovering which frustrations need to be addressed to immediately improve loyalty and retention
Tom Vander Well is President and CEO of Intelligentics, a research firm that has specialized in the B2B and distribution markets for over 35 years. Intelligentics provides a wide array of customer and market research, both quantitative and qualitative, for clients of all sizes along with several related services in the areas of quality assessment, training, coaching and consultation. Tom began working for Intelligentics in 1994, becoming a partner in 2005 and CEO in 2018. He is a popular speaker and writer on subjects like Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction and Service Quality.