As workplaces begin to reopen, we have arrived at a moment of opportunity for employers and employees to come together with a common purpose to align mutual expectations.
We need to think seriously and often about not only our own individual roles but also how we can support colleagues who share our same sense of shock and disbelief over recent events.
Masks, shields, partitions, gloves, social distancing and soap dispensers are meant to protect and to assure us that our company is doing the right things. That’s an important upside.
The ever-present downside is that these new workplace enhancements are constant visual reminders to employees that they are in an environment of risk — risk of becoming ill, risk that their job may go away, risk that their company and its customers may be on shaky ground.
And, if you are currently working remotely, then you face the risk of having no one to talk to, and feeling disconnected or out of the loop.
Companies need to acknowledge and accommodate the fears that their staff have. The world has changed, and if there was ever a need for empathy in the workplace, it is now. CEOs can’t look employees in the eye and tell them they know what’s going to happen next. They don’t know.
If leaders want their people to perform well in an environment of uncertainty, then this is the moment to ensure that truth, kindness, understanding and patience are part of the company culture. That’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.
- Leaders need to position themselves as credible resources for timely information. If they don’t, then rumors will take control and that’s the last thing anyone wants. Be transparent.
- Leaders must communicate regularly, but not over-communicate. There are plenty of companies that will fall into that trap and cause employees to tune out. Every employee has a right to expect that leadership will inform them if it’s something important. That’s how to stop rumors.
- Leaders should be open to any question or comment. It’s OK for somebody to feel insecure in this environment. Acknowledge that. Employees have one question that stands out above all others: “Is my job safe?” Nobody knows, but the best way to ensure that your position is secure is to focus on doing really good work. Encourage that. It must be the standard.
On the other side of the equation, what should companies expect from their employees?
- Support at all levels. Now, more than ever, people should focus on teamwork. Everyone must do their best to take care of customers and each other. Make sure that you don’t lose customers or clients because of poor performance or shoddy service. Excellence in all aspects of work must be the expectation.
- Better listening. Every employee has a life outside of work. Those lives have been seriously disrupted by the pandemic. More employees are going to bring more personal issues into the workplace than ever before. The single best way to accommodate that is for all of us to become better listeners.
- Positive attitudes. This is the way through our common dilemma. Yes, times are tough and there is great uncertainty. But, we all need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. That’s all about attitude and bringing a can-do outlook to work every day.
It’s going to be a new world of work. There is no going back to “normal.” Sure, we are in a difficult situation, but the truth is that we have an exciting opportunity in front of us to create a new and even better future. We mourn what we have lost, but our workplaces can be even better and stronger going forward if we are thoughtful in how we create the future.
Davis Young, APR, Fellow PRSA, was president of the PR firm Edward Howard & Co. He served as chair of the Counselors Academy and led the agency team that received the Best of Silver Anvil Award. Contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting www.dyauthorandspeaker.com.
Photo credit: Halfpoint