The lockdown, announced on March 2020 forced everyone to work from home (WFH). While some organizations were agile to introduce it in time, there were some who believed that WFH was not an option, had to rethink and reset their operations.
In the face of the pandemic, chaos ruled the world. There was anger, hurt, fear, dread and myriad emotions across employees and businesses. The world was challenged in more ways than one. The control was taken out of the hands of the human and forced everyone to embrace humanity, once again. It knitted families, friends and co-workers.
Organizations of all size and stature made changes to adapt. Some made the conscious choice to ride the storm together in the best way possible with few casualties, some used the pandemic as an opportunity to downsize or cut back salaries and benefits. There were a few who decided to lookout for the most valuable capital any organization can have – the human capital.
The transition towards working from home posed many challenges for employee and organizations, alike. Organizations who demonstrate a heart-centric approach wield the power to evoke higher employee loyalty. A CEO in retail, mentioned that in times like these how you treat your employees, vendors and partners will be remembered. Another CXO stated, it is not the time to “run after profits” as it may impact a company’s brand image amongst future candidates, vendors, partners and clients.
Organizations are grappling with ideas to hold on to people, their most valued assets. Employees, themselves are riding a roller coaster of emotions. WFH has encroached into an employee’s most private space, their home. Routines have turned topsy-turvy. Relationships, being put through a litmus test with work from home doubling into work for home as well. Homes with two working members are not equipped to handle work calls at the same time, forcing make-shift home offices into the balcony or terrace and in one case, even the bathroom. Some opt to never turn on their video in sheer embarrassment of that damp, unpainted and peeling wall or clothes strewn around and people crouched together in tiny spaces. If the employee is a caregiver to an ailing family member or home-schooling children, it’s much harder to juggle and balance the needs of the home and office.
Work schedules have no ‘pack-up’ time. Many are, perpetually on work mode and find it difficult to unplug, especially for those working in the same room where they eat or relax. All this, lending an unimaginable weight to the stress and the emotional burden they carry.
It’s a harrowing time for all, and employees are looking up to their organizations and managers to have their back. As leaders, it places an enormous responsibility to incorporate empathy and care. Because the cost of letting go, now and hiring when things settle, is a higher price to pay, in the long run.
Everyone is trying to do their best. However, employees are already stretched to the limit of their resources and require support from organizations more than ever, now – emotionally, psychologically, physically and financially. No one knows what is expected next, however what all of us know is that it’s time to stand by those who partner you.
While layoffs and pay-cut stories are reality and evoke painful conversations, you can stand out by rewarding the loyalty of employees, in whatever miniscule way possible.
Here are a few ways to win employees’ hearts through care.
As offices resume work post-lockdown, it’s vital to be conscious of the health risk an employee is subjected to. It is imperative to share operational readiness and the precautionary measures being implemented with employees for the sake of transparency and clarity.
- Highlight how access to work, social distancing, physical distancing, seating density in shared facilities aka conference rooms, cafeteria, are not compromised.
- Educate them on staggered work schedules, limited or zero travel, dedicated helplines, installation of air purification systems, level of sanitation, hands free technology and reconfigured work spaces to manage hygiene as well as risks due to suspect cases.
- Encourage employees to work from home, regularly, and customers, suppliers and business partners to have discussions via conference calls as much as possible.
- Communicate, responsibly the steps taken to mitigate further spreading of the virus.
- Provide wellness kits – online mindfulness program for mental effectiveness, meditation apps, online fitness memberships, access to coaching and counselling sessions to gain clarity, empower, elevate and feel victorious.
While some may find it overwhelming, organizations that are prepared, transparent, responsive, accessible and committed will inspire a higher level of loyalty. Managing employees through a crisis is likely to help them align on brand purpose.
As one organizational head stated, “Treat them like you would your closest family member and watch their productivity rise higher.”
Offer Financial Support
One of the causes of growing anxiety among employees is the fear of retaining their jobs and being paid on time. Add to this the fear of testing positive, the daunting cost of hospitalisation and recovery. Organizations could consider providing additional financial support through the crisis to demonstrate care by way of:
- coverage of costs for COVID- related testing for themselves and their family
- free virtual doctor visits
- free counselling and coaching services
- paid leave for any employee detected COVID positive
- increased medical insurance cover
- allowance for creating a home office – portable desk and ergonomic chair
- allowance for laptop on rent
The need to display a more humane approach towards human relationships and, can go a long way in fostering employee loyalty in these times. Look after people and the profits will take care of itself.
Knit the Community
So much has changed in the post-pandemic world. While technology has ensured the show goes on, it can also wedge distance among hybrid teams, those working remotely and in offices. The water cooler conversations, cafeteria meet-ups, debates in the conference rooms and huddles in the lounge have gone missing. It’s important to keep alive the offline camaraderie by facilitating and forging those bonds with more inclusivity.
- Increase the quality of communication. Be it through townhall meetings or team catch-ups. Employees need to know how their efforts are contributing and are aligned to the larger vision of the organization. It’s been proven that collective interest trumps individual needs and infuses flexibility and coming together, for the sake of the team.
- Exercise emotional acuity and understanding. Ensure every team member has an opportunity to be heard and acknowledged. Adopt patience in large dollops. Employees may be going through more than their share of challenges on a personal level. Some may have ailing family members or close ones dying with no way of being a part of their final rites.
- Put in place collaboration tools, encourage accountability partners, solidify team processes, share resource guides to display support and create a safe place to navigate conflicts.
- Create real team dynamics and a sense of belonging with team bonding exercises that help understand each other well. An organization conducts a “Know Me” Hour every week, where teams get acquainted with facets of an employees’ life beyond the scope of work; taking a peek into the person beyond the designation and role. Or “Gratitude Morning” where each employee is encouraged to speak about three things that they are most grateful for, personally and professionally.
- Support self-care and boundaries by encouraging employees to unplug and spend time on personal interests and sometimes, just take time out to have a meal.
- Provide employees the opportunity to learn new skills, together and grow, professionally. ‘Wisdom Wednesdays” where talent from a cross section could be invited to share nuggets from their experience to inspire and encourage your employees to aim higher.
It’s imperative to value those who are working the hardest. Studies reflect that more than 50% of consumers trust organizations that show concern towards their employees in the time of crisis. While some may debate that people have short term memories, companies are likely to be judged on how they treat their employees during tough times especially when it comes to attracting high-performing talent and the ability to drive revenues and greater engagement in future.