COVID-19: Key priorities for HR and Managers right now
There’s a plethora of articles about leadership and management out there – particularly leading through change and managing a crisis – which are all very relevant right now. But it’s a whirlwind of data and advice. Facts are forming and evolving by the minute and it’s hard to keep up with what is happening, let alone how we should respond – both on a personal level, and as organisations.
From a tactical point of view, these are three broad themes that stand out for Managers and HR teams within organisations:
1. Turn up the volume on CARE
Mental and physical health is the number one priority right now (always, really, but especially now.).
A recent pulse survey showed that the top two concerns for HR globally at the moment are crisis management and mental health (and presumably the two go hand in hand). There has been increasing attention on mental health and wellbeing at work in recent years, and the pandemic has brought this into sharp, immediate focus. With the weight of caring responsibilities, job insecurity and social isolation on top of previous or ‘normal’ concerns, employees need your empathy and support more than ever right now. A recent report in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that “In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears likely that there will be substantial increases in anxiety and depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence; and with schools closed, there is a very real possibility of an epidemic of child abuse.”
All organisations talk about valuing their people (“our biggest asset?”) and leadership capability frameworks usually incorporate some aspect of employee welfare. This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s time to crank up the volume on the ‘Care’ part of your job as a line manager and put wellbeing at the forefront of how you make decisions for and about your people.
This isn’t always easy, especially when as leaders, we have our own personal pressures and struggles, and we are also trying to keep our businesses afloat. It can be a challenge, but this is a time when our personal and organisational values are put to the test. There may be difficult decisions to make at this time, but they need to be made from a place of compassion, courage and authenticity.
The bottom line is: right now, if you manage others, it’s not just ‘part’ of your job, it IS your job to take care of your people. So make sure that your peoples’ safety and welfare is your top priority. Anything less will be hard to forget and forgive when this is all over.
2. One size doesn’t fit all
Your experience of this pandemic is not the same as mine. Your needs are not the same as mine.
The workplace is not immune to what’s happening in the outside world, including the inequalities that have been highlighted, and exacerbated, by the pandemic. The way we respond must take into account where people are coming from, what their backgrounds and circumstances are, as well the wider context of social dynamics we are seeing. What we face in the outside world, we bring into work, and vice versa.
We need to be attuned to where our people are coming from, as individuals, and what their specific experiences and needs might be right now. To do this effectively, an understanding of DIVERSITY is key. This doesn’t just mean paying attention to the ‘big strands’ of difference (race, age, gender, etc – though these remain important) but all the little things that can make a big difference to what our experience of this pandemic is: our health, our wealth, our postcode, our commute, who we live with, whether we have caring responsibilities (formally or informally), what our local communities are like.
If you don’t know the specific challenges your people are facing right now, you won’t be able to support them in the way that they need.
3. Re-define REMOTE
The great news is that all those jobs we thought couldn’t be done from home... well, they can.
Working from home is not without challenges. It can be difficult to be physically cut off from other people, it doesn’t suit everyone and it doesn’t necessarily work all the time... but bear in mind, this is not the best pilot for it. Working from home is normally a choice, not a requirement. It is not normally riddled with so much external pressure and worry, not to mention having kids at home, other people to care for, and raised levels of personal anxiety across the board. And, of course, it’s hard to generalise because working from home doesn’t look the same for all types of jobs.
Yet... a lot of people are reporting that being at home right now is reducing their work-related stress, and it is opening up new (and often better, more personal and more equitable) ways to connect with each other. Everyone shares the same sized ‘box’ on the screen during virtual calls. You can’t help but bring a personal part of yourself to work – at least your choice in soft furnishings (and thankfully, you can blur the background if you prefer!) You don’t have to commute in rush hour, saving time and energy. And you can have constant cuddles from your pet, if you wish!
No, it’s not perfect and may not be for everyone, but there are lots of advantages to working like this that we may not have fully appreciated before... And it’s time to solidify this ‘a-ha’ moment!
Let’s capitalise on the positive benefits that flexible working can bring to our productivity, engagement and our work-life balance – at a personal and organisational level.
So what do you need to do?
Here is our top 10 list of practical steps to get you started...
1. Be open and honest. Communicate clearly and frequently. Address and actively remove misinformation from circulation.
2. Check in with people. Don’t assume. Ask. Listen. Appreciate difference and diversity. Really try to understand what your people may be going through and where they are coming from.
3. Be flexible and human in your response. Demonstrate empathy. Don’t slap the same policy on everyone without consideration of personal circumstances.
4. Encourage your people to engage in activities that will reduce their stress, whether it’s time to exercise or ways to connect socially. Invest in wellbeing programmes if you can, but make sure you invest in the things that really make a difference for your people, rather than just buying a package off the shelf. Choose your vendor wisely.
5. Leverage technology to create new ways for people to connect and belong. See it not as an inconvenience, but an opportunity to build engagement and belonging through strong, virtual communities.
6. Offer your people a sense of stability by creating and maintaining routines (but be flexible if someone can’t attend a meeting for personal reasons on a particular day).
7. Observe and remember ‘what’s working well’ at the moment so you can keep doing those things once this is all over – whether they are daily check-ins, shorter meetings, longer meetings, more team calls, less team calls, what time of day you have calls, or just the simple way you might have learnt to take turns to speak in Zoom meetings – pinpoint what’s helping to improve engagement and inclusion right now, and incorporate those good practices into your working patterns going forward.
8. Keep planning for the future. Don’t cancel those learning programmes! People need to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that they can keep progressing and growing through this crisis, even if it’s in unplanned ways.
9. Re-define and embrace remote working (or rather, virtual working) – and update your policy! It’s not just about working from home, it’s about defining what we mean by work and letting go of old ideas. Be open to new ways of getting things done and achieving the same objectives. And remember: if everyone is ‘remote’, no one is.
10. And finally: get help if you need it. Ask for advice if you need it. This is a crucial and unprecedented time for all of us, and a real challenge for those who are leading or looking after others. You’re not expected to do it without support.
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