As per a report by the International Labor Organization report, 2020 witnessed job losses to the tune of almost 255 million full-time jobs. Additionally, companies reduced pay, citing a “significant” decline in revenue, with many also freezing wages, salaries, and hiring to survive the crisis. There was unprecedented stress on those who still had their jobs - organizations expected resilience from the remaining workforce and there were very many ways in which employees were asked to step up. Many employees also had to deal with survivor’s guilt, leading to burnout. For even the smallest of errors, an employee began to feel unworthy of not having got the pink slip.
Cut to 2021, COVID-19 rages on. Even as a significant number of lives have been lost globally, employees continue to step up to meet the needs and demands of businesses, placing their health and well-being as secondary. It's time now for employers to reciprocate and step up. And in all probability, the additional pay packet and one time bonuses will not cut it.
It is imperative for companies to recognize the feelings of employees and accommodate their needs - both personal and professional. Employees are often dealing with complicated and undefined personal challenges, parallelly feeling lost at work as well as in their career paths. Leaders must show that they care for the employees at an individual level, building the element of wellness in their professional journeys as well.
Let’s find out how leaders and companies can step up for employees today.
Rebuild morale and provide space for ownership
The sudden job cuts made the best of us question what we bring to the table. And also what we take away from the table.
As employees get back to remote jobs, add new team members, liaise with vendors, third parties - all of it remotely, management plays a huge role in ensuring that people become comfortable in their roles.
Leaders need to become counselors in chief to their direct lines. Jocelyn Kung, a leadership coach, says that “Leaders carry enormous power in shaping employee confidence and attitudes. So being transparent with the truth, quick to get in front of people (regularly), and demonstrating authentic empathy are things that leaders are being called to do now.” People might mistrust what the government tells them, but even the most reticent of us believe what their company leadership tells them.
Drive a sense of purpose by enabling engagement and learning
No longer is it enough to have a seat at the virtual table. It is more important to exercise the voice. According to Willis Towers Watson’s research, companies demonstrating best practices with respect to employee experience are three times more likely to report employees as highly engaged and 93% more likely to outperform industry peers financially. Engagement happens when individuals connect their purpose to the organizational purpose by addressing, “Why is the work I do important?”
Even before the pandemic, there were sizeable skills gaps in the industry. The pandemic has now compressed the process of years into months, and so many jobs are redundant, and many new roles are on the rise. Institute for the Future’s report says that up to 85% of the jobs that today’s college students will hold in 2030 have not been invented yet.
Instilling a sense of purpose and involving employees in decision-making is the first step to upskilling them and helping them become new workplace-ready.
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, says, “It is critical that business take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling, that individuals take a proactive approach to their lifelong learning, and that governments create an enabling environment to facilitate this workforce transformation. This is the key challenge of our time.”
Enhance employee well-being
While many sections of the workforce grapple with post-traumatic stress, others might exhibit phobias to the proximity of people and such. Companies play a crucial role in ensuring that employees make a full recovery.
Research by Willis Towers Watson mentions that well-being should encompass mental health, ergonomic advice, and intentional/ responsible use of information.
It goes onto say that companies with higher levels of well-being achieve better business outcomes, including 22% higher earnings per employee and $1,000 per employee lower annual healthcare costs. Historically, company boards haven’t paid a lot of attention to employee well-being. But with the pandemic, all of that is poised to change. The soft dollar costs of employee mental health are just too significant to ignore anymore.
In this piece by Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed and his co-authors, Brad Messinger and John Bremen from Willis Towers Watson, Reeds speaks of balanced givebacks to the community. Empathy needs to be the cornerstone of leadership during these troubling times, even more now than in 2020.
Recovery is a long road, and it will take more than just resilient employees to put the economy back on track. There must be the will in leaders to adapt and readjust to prioritize people over profits. How companies and their leaders respond today is what will set the tone for the future.