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Engaging Employees who are Disengaging During Times of Distress

Aashi Arora 06 May 2020

In 2009, my company furloughed thousands of employees at all levels. It was a time of distress for many who were unexpectedly faced with the challenges of paying rent, mortgages, and bills. Some fell into states of panic and found it difficult to be productive at work. 

As a finance director, I had to lead teams of hundreds through the crisis and manage their emotional well-being while keeping them focused on work. I was successful during that period by reflecting on the same question daily – what have I done to engage my employees today?

Distress means different things to different people – not having the right support system, pay being reduced, trying to balance having young kids at home, adapting to changes in work environments. 

Now in 2020, we are in a pandemic, a panicked time, and a time of distress. Any issue or situation that is affecting your employees’ ability to perform to the level that they were at before COVID could be leading to distress.

We know that engagement drives productivity and profitability so it is critical for successful leaders to motivate and engage their teams. 

The strategies below can help with enhancing engagement. 

Do In-Person or Virtual Check-Ins.

Audio conferencing may have been an effective mode of communication in the past, but during this time, the in-person or  virtual check-in is critical. Body language is a crucial part of communication and engagement. “Seeing you,” even on a screen, can help people confirm that you are actively listening to them, empathizing with them, and giving their needs your full attention. 

Try to get your employees to talk to you face-to-face so that you can understand their needs better through both verbal and non-verbal cues like tone and body language. Consider scheduling a weekly check-in just to see how they are doing, feeling, and what they need during this time.


Take the time to not just communicate, but overcommunicate and foster transparency with your team.  Employees want to keep abreast of safety and security concerns to avoid surprises. They want to hear about changes in the organization, especially how those changes affect their meaning and purpose. 

Think about the drivers of engagement and how that relates to your written and verbal communications. Do they understand how the company focus may be altered during this time and how their role fits in with the overall mission? What can you do each day and week to be sure that communication about your vision, mission, and goals are being articulated to your staff? 

Ask about Motivators.

Often directors identify someone on their team who is only motivated “by a paycheck.” Yes, while compensation is a motivator, there are many other factors that additionally influence employee engagement, commitment, and loyalty to their role and workplace. 

Don’t guess them – ask what they are. People are part of the team instead of part of the machine. Through the process of learning them, you will see an enhancement to your own leadership performance as you make adjustments to match your style to better serve their needs. 

Engaged employees are committed employees. And while there are those who are self-motivated, it is incumbent upon leaders to understand each individual employee’s motivators. Whether you are a physician, nurse, pharmacist, administrator – you have something that drives you. Something that motivates you to go to work. 

Yes, it applies to all staff at all levels – yes healthcare professionals you too. The best leaders are engagement focused.

Increased “check ins” with your team, overcommunicating, and understanding motivators will help build more commitment and loyalty. If your employees know you are going to support them and be behind them during distress, they will work better and harder. Increasing employee engagement during this time will help build more resilience, potentially allowing you and your team to take this time of distress and use it for growth! Invest in your employees so they invest in driving your business forward. 

Let’s talk employee engagement! Reach out to me:

Aashi Arora


(916) 292-8862

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