Over the past 15 months, employees have lived with anxiety, stress, and even fear. Many have had careers balancing on a knife edge, with their health, families and homes at risk. These people’s lives have shattered into fragments, yet they’re expected to come in, work hard, and keep the lifeblood of the company flowing.
How do you motivate such a workforce? How do you rebuild the unquestioning trust which existed before the pandemic, when good performance guaranteed a safe job? How do you balance your messaging between the honest “Nothing will ever be the same” and the forcefully optimistic “Business as usual, folks”?
Communication lies at the heart of finding this balance. As we move purposefully forwards and leave the pandemic behind, the right messaging and actions will help businesses re-establish themselves as places of safety for employees, despite everything they’ve been through.
Let’s take a look at how.
Reshape this as an opportunity for positive change
Any business still standing has survived the worst of the pandemic. It is the leader’s responsibility to start looking forward; to reflect and rebuild the culture, health, and productivity of the business.
The need for empathy as a company culture has never been more important. Having guided the business through the past 15 months, some leaders have retained the trust and respect of their employees. But it’s a fragile trust. Leaders can leverage this moment to have real talk with employees about their health and personal circumstances at home.
A report from McKinsey summarized it perfectly, stating that the pandemic “provides a historic opportunity to overcome the stigma of mental and emotional health as taboo topics for workplace discussion, especially the feelings of isolation and shame that are attached to job losses and other employment casualties.”
Most of them will be going through rough times away from work, and it is on leaders to appreciate and consider that. Having these conversations lifts moods, raises spirits, and gives employees a sense belonging; acting on them transforms your employees lives. This is a chance to leverage a low point to ignite an unprecedented high.
Get 100% clear on your health & safety
Uncertainty compounds stress. If your business has a physical location, make sure you communicate the rules with absolute clarity to employees. Encourage questions and ask employees to voice their concerns. If the office is open but some employees feel uncomfortable travelling in, allow them to work remotely.
And ideally, ask if there’s anything more you can do to help. Your employees are the lifeblood of your company—even without your moral obligation to help, it is pure business sense to give them every help you can. This kind of proactive behavior is the most valuable thing you can do for employees, and is the ultimate demonstration of great communication.
Put people over profit
Talking about “people before profit” in the boardroom doesn’t make you a forward-thinking, empathetic, trust-building company. Actually putting people first does.
What people need right now is something like security. Employees get that they work in a business, and sometimes businesses lose money and even go broke. Your employees understand that. They don’t need false promises that everything will be fine—they need to believe that whoever’s in charge will do what they can to keep the company, and their jobs, alive.
So how can you demonstrate to your teams that you really are putting them first?
- Consider pay restructuring. Many companies have cut salaries for all their employees to save the few from job cuts. If you’re facing redundancies, consult your staff and see if there’s something extraordinary you can work out.
- Face disruption with total honesty. Be upfront with your employees about current risks and potential future upheaval. It’s tough knowing that more hardship might follow, but it’s much harder being slapped out of the blue.
- Communicate why changes are being made. So many employees have been left in the dark over massive restructuring or business changes. Basic clarity over what’s going on and why will go a long way towards establishing trust with employees.
Some companies have introduced tracking software so every minute of their employee’s time is accounted for remotely. Treating people as commodities this way obliterates trust, compounds stress, and actually hurts productivity. You don’t do that in the office, so why do it remotely?
Give your team trust and the investment will be repaid tenfold in the long run!
Relax the rules
As much as we’re sick of the phrase, these are still unprecedented times. Now is the time to be grateful you still have a business and good people working in it. If individual members need to work from home, or introduce an awkward schedule, or take a break from work, do your utmost to accommodate.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Your employees have been through the mill and, in the US especially there is a notoriously bad culture around sharing feelings or complaining. For the next few months at least, give them all the space and support you can. This won’t only pay off in the short run in terms of productivity and gratitude, but long-term you will gain massive trust and support because you were there for them when they needed it.
At the end of the day, prioritizing employee experience means looking after employees as people. People with feelings, hardships, and complex lives. The key that links all this together is communication: communicate with them honestly and proactively, and it will pay massive dividends over the long term in their happiness, workplace confidence, and their value to the business.