Staff have an ecological hangover
Essentially, we’re piling immediate anxiety about this global pandemic atop of existing dread about the state of the world – it’s not a good combination.
A lot of companies will have business continuity plans or natural disaster plans, but those have been built for one off events, like a terrorist attack or a cybersecurity breach. Nobody has really built anything for something that could last for months and has increasingly unpredictable consequences.”
Managers don’t know how to manage remotely
The majority of employers offer some form of remote work, most organisations don’t teach their leaders how to manage staff virtually. A lot of the current training for managers is focused on face-to-face meetings. This lack of virtual management expertise is a primary concern for many.
Remote workers can feel neglected. Part of management training is about considering ‘virtual body language’ (using emojis, mirroring how the employee communicates) and the best ways to give employees negative feedback. The temptation for the latter is to keep it all virtual, since that’s how most regular communication happens. But it can backfire.
It’s often easy to misconstrue something as negative without tone or verbal clarity. For instance, ‘nice job’ can seem biting and sarcastic even when it’s meant genuinely. The lack of tone can mean people obsess over punctuation. ‘Did they mean to not capitalise? Are they angry? Where are the emojis?’
For that reason, it can be better to communicate either via video conference or on the phone.”
We can expect employees will continue to have to work remotely for some time. So, we should be looking at how we can support managers to manage remotely effectively.
Managers need to communicate more and in different ways, such as holding regular virtual meetings. There’s skill in doing that effectively.”
Organisations should be looking for resources and expertise that can help their managers excel in this time of social distancing.
Maybe we should change our benchmarks
Maybe business leaders revisit what’s possible from their employees during these trying times. Ask yourself, are current performance goals still appropriate?
We really have to re-think what performance looks like during a crisis. We need to redirect peoples’ efforts to high value activities. Make sure you’re using a lens that values quality over quantity.
We should also change our engagement strategies
Organisations should expect employees’ ability to remain focused at this point to be really stretched. They’re worrying about themselves, their families, their children and their communities – in addition to their colleagues.
Employees will not have a lot of capacity for discretionary effort. The immediate response from employers should be how to help their employees maintain focus, engagement and productivity.”
It’s also important for managers to help their staff to feel connected to the purpose of their work. This is always important, but even more so during tough times.
Be clear on the priorities because everyone is distracted and distressed.
Managers can help by making sure the work that’s getting done is the high value stuff.
It’s a real opportunity for managers to step in and constantly remind their people of the value and purpose of the work they’re doing.
Then make sure they’re recognising the efforts of their staff.
Doing that without the advantage of face-to-face time is going to be challenging. So, they’re going to need some training on how to do that well. They’ll need access to HR support when they have challenges they might not have experienced before.
Vision should trump fear
You’ve only got to look at the populations’ panic buying tendencies to see just how powerful fear can be. When scared, we can act out of character.
When people are concerned about the economy, they often go back to more radical survival needs. American queues to buy guns and ammunition, people in supermarkets fighting over toilet roll.
One way to get someone out of a panic attack is to engage the parts of the brain that aren’t just about fight or flight. In times of stress it’s important to articulate the grander vision. Get people thinking about the good your organisation does and how their work contributes. And don’t neglect that they still want to develop in their career. Consider what training can be provided remotely and let people know what opportunities are available or on the horizon.
Impacts on women are greater
You might not consider coronavirus to be a gender issue, but it absolutely is. Women account for the majority of the casual workforce. Casual and contract workers are likely to feel the pinch the most due to a lack of job security and benefits.
Women will also be disproportionately impacted by the changes wrought by COVID-19, because, historically, they take on the caring roles in society. Working mothers will make less money than working fathers. So, if a family has to decide who will stay home to look after elderly relatives or children, it makes sense to pick the person who earns less – often the woman.
Thinking cost first can damage your employment brand
The decisions employers make now could have detrimental effects in the future.
You might not be obligated to pay somebody above and beyond their entitlements. Employees with casual workers or contractors might not be under any obligation to pay workers who aren’t at work. There will be plenty of people who are forced to utilise their annual leave to care for relatives or home school children, at a time where they’d much prefer to hold onto those entitlements.
How you handle these things could have an impact on your employer brand and corporate reputation.
We’re operating in an age of radical transparency. So how businesses act and the decisions they make during these times will have enormous potential consequences.
We aren’t prepared for the scale of mental health issues
Psychological distress will be a prominent emotion in workplaces across the world, and it’s not something most managers know how to address.
This will not be just a general disruption to the way people work, there’s market volatility, and possibly an imminent recession. So, all employees will experience levels of distress in ways managers and leaders haven’t seen before. Panic buying is an obvious manifestation of that.
“People will be asking questions like, ‘Is my job safe?’ and ‘What if I’m quarantined or my child’s school closes down?’ For casual employees, they could be asking things like, ‘Will I get paid at all?’
Around 80 per cent of the mental health issues in employees are either directly related to work or a combination of work and personal issues. Employees still do not generally feel comfortable disclosing their stress or poor mental health to their managers.
Know who your key players are
This is a simple point, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Staff that you don’t tend to think of as critical can become so in a time of crisis. For example, a lot of organisations are relying on admin staff for critical communication functions right now. Another example is IT. They have to manage the technology infrastructure to keep this whole thing going. So that’s a section of the workforce that’s going to be highly stressed.” It might be worth developing a separated, targeted communication and support framework for your key players in a crisis.
There are silver linings
There is opportunity in a crisis. Not because we should be looking to profit when things are in disarray, but because when things are bad you should remember that you can still be a force for good.
We’re right in the middle of the largest ‘work from home experiment’ ever conducted. We could come out at the end saying our employees really stepped up. They were productive and motivated. And businesses didn’t collapse because people weren’t physically in the office. This experiment may remove any of the last vestiges of cynicism from managers and leaders. That could be one positive outcome to come from this.
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