Heart and Soul: Why Employee Engagement Is a Top Priority in Unprecedented Times


While it could be said that the backbone of a company is the products or services it sells, its people are truly its heart and soul.

Under normal operating conditions, communicating with employees, sharing goals, and keeping them motivated are core focuses for company leaders and HR professionals. During unprecedented times — like the situation we’re dealing with now — communicating with employees becomes absolutely critical.

If a company wants to survive a crisis, it must keep its heart and soul engaged. It sounds like a no-brainer, but stepping up your engagement efforts during a difficult time can be a challenge. It requires planning, relentless follow-up, commitment, a willingness to try new things, and an all-hands-on-deck attitude.

Having been part of numerous leadership teams with various companies over the years, I’ve experienced firsthand employee engagement done well — and not so well. At Herbalife Nutrition, a company with approximately 9,500 employees around the world, we are thankfully blessed to have a team who understands and values employee engagement. This has made a huge difference as we’ve navigated the pandemic.

How We Responded to the COVID-19 Crisis

Because we manufacture food products, it was important that we maintained a continuity of business. Our customers rely on our products as key parts of their healthy lifestyles. But we also needed to find a way to conduct business while caring for the health and safety of our employees.

Like many companies, we changed the way our employees worked by asking them to work from home. For those employees who could not carry out their duties at home, we changed workflows to meet social distancing requirements.

What didn’t change was our focus on keeping all our team members engaged. We analyzed the tools and resources we had available, and then we set some specific goals for keeping employees engaged, motivated, and collaborating in this uncharted environment. Those goals include:

  1. Use technology to ensure we hold a majority of meetings via Zoom to better foster connections between team members — and to make sure we don’t lose our sense of humor in these trying times
  2. Constantly and consistently solicit employee feedback and ideas
  3. Keep departments engaged in fun ways
  4. Continue collaborating around the world on important projects
  5. Continue to foster learning and professional development
  6. Ensure teams stay engaged with their normal projects and goals as much as possible
  7. Continually emphasize our culture and values even while working from home
  8. Engage employees in both mind and body

Putting Our Goals into Action

We understood that our teams needed to hear from company leaders, so we implemented a virtual weekly town hall where executives could share information and answer questions. Additionally, Herbalife CEO John Agwunobi shares thoughts and reinforces culture and values in a weekly communique.

Department heads integrated some fun into their virtual meetings, such as hosting photo contests or competitions for the best virtual backgrounds. We’ve also held social events like virtual happy hours to retain a sense of camaraderie.

For our essential team members with roles in our manufacturing and distribution facilities, we implemented social distancing rules that aligned with guidelines from trusted sources like the World Health Organization and local governments. Additionally, we have been consistently communicating safety guidelines and providing employees with the educational resources made available by these organizations.

We want employees to continue feeling like they are growing in their careers, so we are encouraging employees to participate in training opportunities via online platforms. For example, we launched a global Linked-in-Learning initiative to teach employees valuable skills like time management and effective work-from-home habits. We’re also helping our employees access sources of personal and professional development beyond the internal classes we offer. Because we’ve continued to invest in employee education, we’ve been able to announce and celebrate some promotions during this difficult time, which reinforces the importance of continued professional development and provides a powerful morale boost.

The body is just as important as the mind, so we’ve also implemented daily virtual workouts so that employees can exercise together from their separate homes.

Employee Feedback Is Key

When it comes to implementing new employee engagement programs, it doesn’t really matter what you do if it isn’t helping your employees. That’s why it’s important to solicit employee feedback on what you’re doing. At the end of each activity, we ask employees to fill out a short survey, which includes space for them to share their thoughts on what we could do better.

We’ve also implemented a feedback forum on The Greenhouse, our internal crowdsourcing portal where employees can contribute to company innovation. Seeing as COVID-19 is a global issue, we thought The Greenhouse would be a great place to have our global employees offer up their ideas for dealing with the crisis. Excitingly, our employees stepped up: A quarter of our worldwide staff has participated so far, introducing 47 new ideas and 32 new best practices. Once employees have had a chance to vote on the ideas, the winners will be implemented — aside from a couple of no-brainer good ideas we implemented immediately.

In this time of crisis and change, I can’t think of a more appropriate proverb than “This, too, shall pass.” However, we should not forgo the opportunity to learn from these events. As company leaders, we must all note what worked and what didn’t and build plans for future troubles.

Most of all, we must always remember to take care of our companies’ hearts and souls, because they take care of us every day.

David Pezzullo is chief operating officer of Herbalife Nutrition.

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