Employee engagement in a WFA world

What can the HR do differently to help employees be engaged at work?


The workforce of the world has been imbibing the from Anywhere (WFA) culture over the past several months. Most of the employees are seeing their co-workers, friends and family members on device screens only. As a result, 75 per cent of employees feel more socially isolated, 57 per cent feel more anxious, and 53 per cent admit to feeling more emotionally exhausted according to Harvard Business Review1. When employees feel unsafe, employee engagement is a far cry.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace2 report, only 15 per cent of the employees are engaged at the workplace. But that was before the pandemic! Now, the numbers are better left unsaid.

Facing the challenge of employee engagement head on, is the human resource function in every organisation. Traditionally, HR has been regarded as the custodian of the ‘human touch’, helping employees grow and thrive.

What can the HR do differently to help employees be engaged at work?

What can they possibly “imagineer” (imagine + engineer) to help employees feel safe, included, heard and thrive?

The important contributors of employee engagement are:

1. Listening to the voice of the employee

2. Investing in their wellbeing, growth and development

3. Empowering them

4. Recognising their contribution

5. Offering them opportunities

6. Inspiring them to excel and grow

7. Providing them immediate managerial support

Townhalls, training, wellness sessions, employee recognition all contribute to enriching the above contributors. There is one intervention in particular which has proven to be helpful in employees’ progress towards becoming ‘anti-fragile3’, that is, ‘Coaching’.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.’

Coaching provides a safe space for employees to be heard. It also empowers them with choice. Once employees have choice, they are inspired to take actions towards their success, which, in turn, leads to organisational success. Coaching also involves the managers of the employees as stakeholders in their growth. This further enhances engagement.

The greatest value in coaching emerges from the process that helps clients to arrive at solutions that work for them, in their context instead of being given a solution that may or may not work for them. This is useful especially when we are facing a high level of uncertainty like now when no one has the silver bullet.

Is there proof of this working? Indeed. In the ICF-HCI 2016 survey (Figure 1) on ‘Building a coaching culture for increased employee engagement’, it’s been established that coaching has powerful outcomes not only on employee engagement, which is a leading indicator, but also on shareholder value and profitability that are lagging indicators.

Figure 1: Coaching enables outcomes for organisation

As an executive coach, I have been a witness to this tremendous change in all my clients who are employees of Fortune 500 organisations. The last six months have brought in great lessons of resilience and courage for my clients across the globe as well as for me. During our sessions (that are confidential), many of my clients talked through the feelings of “anticipatory loss” of their loved ones, jobs and many of the privileges that they enjoyed before the pandemic. They talked about having no physical boundary between work and home. They sorted their feelings of being always “on” with child care, home chores and work. Many were frustrated at not being able to see the end in sight, while some were just scared.

While acknowledging their feelings, we went past from what is not in their control and what is. When my clients processed through what is in their control, they identified different things to keep themselves engaged including learning a new skill, exercising with remote support, having e-coffee with their team members at least once a week to stay in touch, being self-compassionate when something remained incomplete and so on.

Many of them were extremely thrilled that their organisation offered them the opportunity to not be “alone”. That they could speak of their fears and not be judged. They could generate “choice” amidst “may-day” which was not possible earlier. If not gratitude, what else could generate better employee engagement?

ICF Credentialed Coaches can help your organization to successfully embrace Work From Anywhere culture, contact them today!

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 50,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.

The author, Priya Venkatesan is an executive coach specialising in leadership and teams. She is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from ICF, with nearly two decades of total experience. She spent 15 years in the IT industry as a programme manager delivering multi-million-dollar projects with 100+ teams serving Fortune 500 customers. She also has five years of experience as a leadership coach, where she has enabled leading technology organisations to reach their strategic outcomes by coaching their key leaders.


1. https://hbr.org/2020/05/how-ceos-can-support-employee-mental-health-in-a-crisis

2. http://news.gallup.com/reports/220313/state-global-workplace-2017.aspx

3. https://www.amazon.in/Antifragile-Things-That-Disorder-Incerto/dp/0812979680

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