As the world begins to consider re-entry, a compassionate leadership style is required. While the re-entry process will be unique for each business based on the products and services you offer, one thing will be the same: every employee will bring their own emotional and situational burdens with them. We are all experiencing trauma of some kind that is weighing us down and dictating our actions and our emotional wellbeing, all of which will be carried with us as we re-enter. We must continue to stay engaged with our people and to design a culture together to co-create the experience and future we want for ourselves and for our employees.
As leaders, it is important to acknowledge that everyone is facing a different set of dynamics. It is our role to honor each person’s fears, worries, and responsibilities. Here are some recommendations to guide you in assisting each person to make decisions that are right for the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families.
One of our roles as business leaders is to create a safe environment in which to work and to be productive. Meanwhile, no one is working with a complete understanding of COVID-19. Each day we are flooded with information – some good, some bad; some founded in research and some in speculation. This flood of information means we may all be making decisions based on completely different sets of datapoints.
As leaders, it is important to share the information that you are using to determine how, when, and to what extent your business is going to return to normal. Over the last few weeks you have probably increased your usual communication cadence to keep people informed. Continue this practice to help people understand how operations might change. If you are returning to the office, will you be changing the layout? Are there new rules and protocols? Who will be enforcing them? When and where will masks be worn? Even something as small as new policies on shared spaces like a refrigerator or the coffeemaker can inform and prepare your team.
Change is hard for people on a normal day. Help them be prepared for what to expect. Give them a basis for why you are making these policies. While you may have agonized over each and every one of these details, communicating the reasoning for each decision will allow them to understand why these decisions have been made. And remember that they, too, understand that you are doing the best with the information you have.
Honoring Each Employee’s Situation
Throughout this time, we have each been affected in different ways. Some people have, sadly, struggled with illness themselves or have loved ones who are suffering. Many have lost jobs and are facing financial issues. Others are juggling working from home with limited childcare and with needing to navigate home-schooling dynamics. School is out, camps aren’t happening, and daycare may not be an option. How can they care for their family as they consider going back to work? These are realities that many shoulder with no viable solutions. How will you and your team help people make informed choices that leave them feeling empowered?
Travel also plays into this process. How do most travel to work? Do they rely public transportation? Are there alternatives if people aren’t comfortable taking trains and buses? If the alternatives are not appealing or feasible for some employees, is there an option to continue to work from home until they are comfortable? This option should, of course, be tied to their displayed productivity while working remotely; but, be willing to be flexible. Offering options gives your team more control over the situation. It also shows that you are putting their wellbeing first and that you truly care.
Political and Personal Opinions
You will be tasked with setting standards to ensure the safety of your entire team. As is the case with other policies that are set across an organization, they are meant to be adhered to. It is critical as a leader that you allow people to have their own beliefs; however, in this instance you will also need to ensure standards are followed despite individual beliefs or opinions. For instance, when an employee decides to ignore a policy, it may be necessary to have a prepared response. Additionally, make sure when communicating any new policies that you clearly state that all policies can be changed as new information arises.
Let Your Company Culture Guide You
Whenever possible, allow your culture to dictate policy changes. If you are requiring a health check before entering the building, make sure it is done with kindness. Some businesses are playing fun music while people wait their turn and are creating private safe areas for screenings. Others are making sure the “work clock” starts while waiting in line. Shoulder as much of the extra burden as you can. And, of course, think through the process of how someone is sent home due to illness or precaution so that it is done with kindness and privacy. Being prepared ahead of time will allow your team to act in a way that is aligned with your culture and the way you treat your people.
The bottom line: even though you may find it challenging to make decisions in this very difficult time, leading with compassion by being transparent in your communication and putting the wellbeing of your employees first – just as you would any other day – will make all the difference.
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