They’ve made it through the initial storm, in a way that has helped reinforce company purpose and values: much more effectively than any corporate mission statement. Now, as mindsets switch to recovery against the tide of an economic downturn, the question is can employers hang on to lessons learnt during lockdown.
It’s probably safe to say that most companies were simply paying lip-service to wellbeing pre COVID-19. This is in spite of long-held evidence proving that those companies that look after their people – that really engage with their people – are more innovative, productive and profitable. They show lower employee turnover rates and higher customer advocacy.
It was on the ‘to do’ list!
Plans to address all of this – long-term strategic plans set out well prior to the pandemic – were suddenly released from the usual shackles of the boardroom and governance controls as lockdown kicked in.
We’re now seeing leaders putting people before profits.
Senior people are more visible than ever before. They’re communicating with transparency and empathy. And the shift to mass remote working has helped prove it doesn’t require a commute to an office to make people productive. Quite the contrary.
Calm before the storm
But now, faced with an underlying economic catastrophe, the narrative is quickly shifting towards business recovery. It’s all about survival. And as fatigue begins to set in at all levels, can employers ensure resilience? How do they crystallise all their people behind a common purpose? And, at the same time, how do they hang on to that human-centric approach revealed during lockdown?
Wellbeing communication priorities
- The risk of employee - and leadership - burnout is real. Four fifths (79%) of HR Leaders think the risk of employee burnout is increasing potentially as a result of a new culture of “e-presenteeism” brought about by mass homeworking during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research commissioned by LinkedIn in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation. Now that remote working looks like the new norm for many, now is the time to be alert to the signs of burnout and take preventative, supportive action. And obviously, leaders are certainly not immune to this. They’ve led people through the initial crisis, they also need wellbeing support to get everyone through the next phase.
- Leadership is more critical than ever. At a time when many people are worried about the potential health risks of returning to the workplace, not to mention job security, leaders must continue the transparency seen during the first 12 weeks. They need to be honest about the challenges the business faces. And give people the opportunity to ask questions by whatever means possible. And they should continue to be honest about their own challenges, reflecting struggles their people may be facing, effectively letting them know it’s OK to structure work around life.
- Proactive remote line management support is needed. Line managers need support from the business to ensure they’re alert to the stresses and strains that their teams are under, so they can help ensure coping mechanisms are in place This might include conducting stress risk audits, adjusting workloads and working arrangements accordingly and/or making use of immediate access services, such as employee assistance programmes. Interestingly, research by REBA shows that companies are planning to introduce various self-care services in response to the current crisis, the most popular being virtual GPs, mental wellbeing apps and financial education.
- Recognition and performance practices will change. As working from home continues - on a permanent basis for some - the way in which performance is measured and recognition schemes structured will inevitably have to change: perhaps to be outputs focused and rebalanced according to personal and business objectives.
- Financial wellbeing needs to be more targeted. As highlighted by speakers at a recent REBA webinar (#7), pre COVID-19 financial wellbeing received little boardroom attention, but it’s now been forced into the spotlight. There was already a looming financial crisis and now, with reduced incomes and job insecurity rife, it could tip many people over the edge. And while providing employees with information and links to resources is fine, it can also be overwhelming, particularly at a time when people might be working, home schooling and acting as carers. So, the need to segment communications has become ever more important. For example, the financial wellbeing needs of those furloughed, graduates, dual income families where one is self-employed and pre-retirees are entirely different.
*This article was written for, and features in REBA, June 2020