The COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes in stressors and working conditions that researchers say has contributed to a large decrease in employee productivity. How can organizations better help their employees stay productive at work through the ongoing pandemic? New research (Liu et al., 2021) finds that two workplace interventions were successful at increasing employee engagement.
STUDY ONE: THE ROLE OF COVID-19 CRISIS STRENGTH
Researchers surveyed 258 nurses and 26 supervisors in a hospital in Chengdu, China. Participants were surveyed three times across six weeks. Among other factors, researchers measured COVID-19 crisis strength, or the extent to which an employee perceives COVID-19 to be novel, disruptive, and critical.
Results from the survey indicated that COVID-19 crisis strength was negatively related to work engagement, meaning that higher perceptions of COVID-19 crisis strength was associated with lower work engagement. However, as nurses’ work meaningfulness increased (the perception that one’s daily job responsibilities have broader significance), the negative relationship between COVID-19 crisis strength and work engagement weakened. Results also showed a negative, but non-significant, relationship between COVID-19 crisis strength and taking charge behaviors. However, as nurses’ work meaningfulness increased, the negative relationship between COVID-19 crisis strength and taking charge behaviors weakened.
STUDY TWO: ORGANIZATIONAL INTERVENTIONS
The researchers examined if brief interventions could improve work engagement and taking charge behaviors (voluntary and constructive efforts to effect change). Participants were 64 medical professionals who worked in an ICU for COVID-19 patients. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: 15 participants received an intervention aimed at reducing COVID-19 crisis strength, 16 received an intervention aimed at increasing work meaningfulness, 15 participants received both interventions, and 15 participants received no intervention (the control group).
The COVID-19 crisis strength intervention involved the vice president for training and development holding a counseling session that was aimed at reducing the perceived novelty, disruption, and criticality of COVID-19. The work meaningfulness intervention involved the vice president sending an official letter to the participants that stressed the importance of their work in three areas related to their occupation. Participants in all conditions received a survey measuring their work engagement and taking charge behavior before the intervention took place, and were surveyed again using the same measures after the interventions took place.
Results from the second study found that participants in the group that received both interventions reported larger increases in both work engagement and taking charge behaviors compared to participants in the other three groups.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Results from this study suggest that low-cost interventions may be effective in improving both work engagement and taking charge behaviors during unexpected events. Both organizational leaders and HR staff can design training and interventions programs to help employees cope and adjust safely to unexpected events like COVID-19. Finally, it is important that managers and organizational leaders work to foster meaningfulness in their employees work. Reminding employees about the impact that their work has may contribute to positive organizational and individual outcomes.
Liu, D., Chen, Y., & Li, N. (2021). Tackling the Negative Impact of COVID-19 on Work Engagement and Taking Charge at Work: A Multi-Study Investigation of Frontline Health Workers. Journal of Applied Psychology. Online first publication.