How to Lead & Support Employee Wellbeing During a Crisis

21st April 2020

Covid-19 is the first pandemic in over 100 years. Across the globe both public and private organisations are having to rapidly respond as the situation continues to unfold. The pandemic has been, and continues to be, the ultimate stress test for the majority of organisations worldwide. Covid-19 has caused unprecedented levels of disruption to all segments of society and the overall global economy.

Speaking about the unpredictable trajectory of the 2020 economy caused by Covid-19, John Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte said: “It’s going to be tumultuous, difficult, and uncertain. In this environment, remember one thing: if you take care of your employees, they will take care of you.” This statement rings true as research has shown that engaged, loyal employees are more likely to go the extra mile than disengaged ones.

It goes without saying, a Crisis Management and Resilience Strategy would put any organisation in a better place to deal with a sudden pandemic or other threat. Not to mention, would most likely have allowed a company to ensure they had ticked the ‘digital transformation’ box slightly better and ensured their people were fully ready for remote working.

Looking at things from a more positive perspective, Covid-19 has highlighted what needs to be done in future (to bolster a business against a sudden crisis) and, has put us all on a steep learning curve in terms of the more immediate things we can do right now to help our organisations and the people within them.

Initially, as the virus spread across the globe, most organisations prioritised protecting the immediate health of their workers and ensuring the business would survive. Now, as remote working and the stress related to the pandemic continues, many are recognising the need to refocus their efforts towards supporting Employee Wellbeing.

During any period of stress (including a crisis), organisations cannot afford to ignore the human element of their operations, after all, it is people that make a business function. When there is heightened tension and uncertainty, employers need to actively manage their Employee’s Wellbeing, particularly during a time of crisis.

With normal routines massively disrupted, people are experiencing heightened levels of emotion on a daily basis. Recent snapshot surveys carried out by the Academy of Medical Sciences in March suggest that anxiety, isolation and becoming mentally unwell were top concerns for people in the UK.

And, on top of their fears about the infection, many are having to cope with anxieties related to their livelihoods. With thousands of people being furloughed or let go, job loss is one of people’s chief concerns. The constant barrage of media coverage on the situation is also contributing to the belief that things will only get worse before they get better.

Also, people are feeling overwhelmed with the ‘to do’ list they are facing which plays a big part in their stress levels. Already, many are having to go above and beyond to meet targets or provide services, particularly those working in critical front-line services such as the NHS. Combined, these negative emotions can make an individual feel they have no control over their day-to-day lives and become increasingly uncertain about their future.

Intense short periods of high demand are normal in most workplace scenarios and won’t cause any undue long-term negative effects. But, when intense demand is prolonged and unrelenting, such as now, the work environment can quickly become toxic, leaving people feeling burned-out and unable to continue working. At present it is unclear when this crisis will end, which can compound these feelings of helplessness.

If Employee Wellbeing is ignored or put on the back burner, organisations are likely to see a major decline in employee morale, engagement and productivity . At the same time, the rate of errors, absenteeism and attrition are likely to increase.

Companies that fail in their duty of care for their people also risk seriously damaging their own reputation with customers, suppliers and future candidates. For example, JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin has faced enormous public backlash over his response to the virus.

How can an organisation actively support Employee Wellbeing?

From his research into Mental Wellbeing in the military, Neil Greenberg, Professor of Defence Mental Health King’s College London, states that the best way to protect Employee Wellbeing and Mental Health is to have good supportive relationships with people at work, “resilience doesn’t lie with individuals, it lies between individuals,” he explains.

To protect Employee Wellbeing organisations need to help their people build strong team bonds, which will ultimately pay dividends as to how people are able to manage with adversity over time.

Compassionate leadership is key to making this process work. Supervisors and line-managers must practice compassion and empathy while encouraging team members to do the same.

Team-leaders can support their people by making themselves available to actively listen to them and help alleviate concerns. Despite social distancing and possible time constraints, tools such as Trickle enable leaders to hear from and respond to their people in real-time. Cultivating a mentality of “we’re all in this together” and “we’ve got your back” can help everyone feel included and less isolated.

With the line of communication open between employers and employees (using digital tools when necessary), it’s important to make those interactions authentic and have real outcomes. By actively listening and then engaging with their workforce in real-time, management is better able to understand what their people need to feel supported.

Providing people an outlet to make their voices heard helps them to raise concerns, highlight issues, and more importantly, ask for support when they need it. Actively listening and actioning appropriate responses (where possible) is key when looking to provide a psychologically safe environment .

Organisations should adopt a ‘nip it in the bud’ approach to problem solving – responding promptly to feedback is an opportunity for the organisation to show their people they are valued, which will encourage them to keep contributing input and help them to feel less anxious.

Organisations can also look to support their people’s wellbeing by adjusting its expectations of them & setting targets appropriately to accommodate the current situation.

In a time of crisis organisations should also expect the likelihood of health ramifications for their people. This means, organisations should look to make these aforementioned adjustments, otherwise they may put undue stress on their people, which can then lead to other health problems. Employers should also work to remove the negative stigma associated with mental health issues so that their people feel comfortable to ask for support.

Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, told his employees, “We got this. Take care of yourselves, take care of your families, be a good partner. It is fine to work irregular or reduced hours. It is fine to take time out when you need it.”

Ultimately, although it feels like the whole world has been disrupted by the virus, the basic principles of encouraging Employee Wellbeing have not changed, instead their importance has been highlighted by the new situation.

Right now is an opportunity for employers to rethink the relationship they want to have with their workers and to start putting those principles in place. Caring for Employee Wellbeing during this time will have a huge impact on how an organisation comes out at the other end. And, by adopting and keeping these measures in place the organisation will benefit in the long run.

Trickle’s Employee Wellbeing, Communication & Engagement Platform will help you to reach-out, chat and connect with your people in real-time, enabling you to focus on what matters most right now.

Trickle also provides your people with a space to share their suggestions, collaborate with their colleagues and keep in touch with their co-workers helping to boost morale and generally make the working day that little bit easier.

Contact us now to take advantage of our Free Trial and to find out more about Trickle and how we can help you support your people’s wellbeing.

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