skip to main content
Is Your Culture Resilient Enough to Survive Coronavirus?

Is Your Culture Resilient Enough to Survive Coronavirus?

Story Highlights

  • A meta-analysis of 62,965 teams was published in Human Performance
  • Engagement has a stronger relationship to performance in economic crisis
  • Five employee engagement elements best differentiate resilient cultures

A make-or-break trait for organizations during tough times is resilience.

This is especially true during the coronavirus pandemic. People's compounding concerns about their health, financial future and disrupted lives make this the toughest time most of us have ever experienced. Gallup analytics are finding unprecedented spikes in daily worry and stress, while overall percentages of people "thriving" have dropped to Great Recession-era lows. It takes an exceptional level of resilience for organizations and employees to thrive in such an uncertain and radically disrupted climate.

A new Gallup global meta-analysis of 62,965 business units and teams, published in the peer-reviewed organizational science journal Human Performance, reports that favorable job attitudes have a stronger relationship to organizational outcomes in bad economic times than they do in normal or good times.

The study looked at how key cultural attributes predicted profitability, productivity, customer perceptions of service and employee turnover from the mid-'90s through 2015 -- which included two major economic recessions (2001-2002 and 2008-2009).

Organizational Performance and Employee Engagement

Thriving and resilient cultures endure through good times and bad. These agile cultures prove their endurance during tough times by experiencing minimized disruption of key outcomes, such as productivity, customer service and profit. Resilient cultures survive. Even during good economic times, new threats to organizations are constant -- and constantly changing. Thriving, resilient cultures see accelerated performance compared with their peers.

Favorable job attitudes have a stronger relationship to organizational outcomes in bad economic times than they do in normal or good times.

Gallup analysts dug deep into our databases to understand what leads to these types of outcomes over time. We found that the percentage of engaged employees has not significantly changed through various pandemics (e.g., West Nile virus, SARS, the Zika virus, bird flu), two major recessions and 9/11. Employee engagement has changed almost entirely in response to organizational practices, such as top executive involvement, manager education, communication and accountability -- prior to COVID-19, employee engagement had reached record levels.

But the recently published meta-analysis reveals that the relationship between employee engagement and performance does change during crises. In fact, during the past major recessions, improving employee engagement has proven to be even more important.

Business units are at an increased advantage and more resilient than their peers if employee engagement is strong. And they are at an increased disadvantage and less resilient if employee engagement is weak during a recession.

In fact, the opportunity -- and vulnerability -- is magnified during a recession.

Five Engagement Elements That Make a Difference

Which employee engagement elements best define the increased opportunity, or vulnerability, during tough times? These five elements best differentiated resilient business unit cultures from others:

1. Clear expectations. During tough times, employees need managers who reset priorities, involve them in reestablishing their goals and constantly clarify their role relative to their coworkers.

2. The right materials and equipment. As work changes during a crisis, ongoing discussions about what resources employees need to get work done are important to minimize stress and build high-performing teams.

3. Opportunities for employees to do what they do best. The ability to leverage one's strengths in a crisis is the difference between moving toward opportunity and falling victim to circumstances.

4. Connection to the mission or purpose of the organization. During a crisis, people need to see how they, and their work, fit into the bigger picture -- how they can impact something significant and know their work matters.

5. Coworkers committed to quality work. There is no room for slack in a crisis. All team members must be dedicated to high-quality, efficient work. It is equally essential that teams within an organization rely on and respect one another's work.

Thriving and resilient cultures endure through good times and bad.

It takes highly engaged and talented managers to connect their team with other teams in the organization to maximize resiliency during tough times and for the organization to thrive in all times. Resilient and thriving organizations are committed to identifying and developing the best managers -- those who function more like coaches than bosses. These managers are continually connected to their teams and focused on team engagement.

Resiliency in tough times starts with managers focusing on the basics: clarifying roles, ensuring employees have what they need to do their work, putting them in a position to do their best work, helping people see how their work connects to a bigger purpose and having extremely high standards for quality across all teams. Focusing on these elements matters most in seeing a team through the coronavirus pandemic -- and any crises it will confront in the future.

Create a more resilient culture:


Jim Harter, Ph.D., is Chief Scientist, Workplace for Gallup and bestselling author of Culture Shock, Wellbeing at Work, It's the Manager, 12: The Elements of Great Managing and Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. His research is also featured in the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller, First, Break All the Rules. Dr. Harter has led more than 1,000 studies of workplace effectiveness, including the largest ongoing meta-analysis of human potential and business-unit performance. His work has also appeared in many publications, including Harvard Business Review, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and in many prominent academic journals.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030