Putting ‘People’ at the centre of business

Making organisations more human-centric while battling a pandemic

As the pandemic dawned on the world, it brought inevitable change. Life and work has been different these last few months for all of us. The world has changed and the use of technology has progressed as companies continue to struggle in their efforts to stay afloat. 

Organisations have been thrust into the unknown

The unpredictable nature of the virus has created an unprecedented environment for organizations, as we all learn to thrive within the overarching theme of uncertainty. Businesses across the board are dealing with market instability as economies continue to battle this pandemic.

The unknown brings with it organisational concerns around success, relevance and continuity. Within the ecosystem employees have stresses around work security, financial instability and overall wellness. There is both a need and opportunity here for leaders to address and assuage these concerns. 

How the pandemic will end remains to be seen and as a result presents a constantly changing situation. There is the tension of keeping up business operations but also caring for all the people that are grappling with the dire health concern. How can organisations tackle this discourse? 

  1. Diversify The Safety Measures and hedge those fears

Economic impact is inevitable and companies cannot be blamed for cutting costs. However, they can choose to be sensitive in their approach. If pay structures have to be slashed, they should be gradual so there is no shock or sudden blow to employees in maintaining livelihoods. Layoffs where required should be communicated well in advance, follow a staggered method and giving employees adequate notices and fair compensations is essential. Employees need to be given sufficient time to get their affairs in order.

Emergency response plans are typically about preparedness which is reflected in the policies and procedures of the organisation. These usually come into play after the emergency has occurred or is in play. However, it is imperative, from a preventive standpoint at the enterprise level to invest more on healthcare needs, for these kinds of unusual circumstances. Access to healthcare and medical coverage should ensure that employees are well protected and feel safe.

While there is a need for everything to be written and binding in the contract between the enterprise and employee, these are strange times and there needs to be some level of fluidity to account for all circumstances. Creating a flexible environment and an accommodative approach ensures that nobody gets left behind or feels unsupported in their unique circumstances. This is obviously a new type of challenge which means there will be a variety of policy considerations that need to be reassessed. Employees could be facing involuntary quarantines or dealing with infected family members. The new policies will need to detail issues such as sick leave and compensation structures. Given that each scenario could be different, it is so important to factor in a great deal of flexibility. This entails a decentralized approach, so that effectiveness will improve and solutions are more fitting to the actual scenarios.

  1. Tap into inclusive leadership and engage the employees

Organisations and their leaders have to prioritize taking care of their people. In times of uncertainty, open dialogue and communication is more important than ever. Communicating any change of plans as well as tapping into providing support measures for employees is essential to the organizations wellbeing.

Of course employees are accountable and responsible for themselves but also indirectly to the organisation at large. Setting standards and rules of engagement in the workspace for these unique circumstances is vital. Outside of physical safety measures, employees need to be supported mentally and should know where they can go for support to relieve tension surrounding all the uncertainty.

The message relayed by the leaders sets a direct precedent for performance. People are confused, afraid and privy to all sorts of information about the pandemic that can create a sense of overwhelm and distress. Big stories are breaking everyday about the world coming to a halt, schools and colleges being closed, communities under lockdown. In light of the organisations wellbeing, leaders have to make sure that whatever is being communicated aligns and ties back to the values of the organisation. Integrating the company values into caring for the employee will soothe the workforce while also reinforcing the motivation to perform.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of leadership in these times will be to strike a balance between what’s economically viable and what’s ethically vibrant. Transparency surrounding the decisions being made is possibly the best way to not drive employees away. 

  1. Invest in Empathy and understand the importance of human connections

The ethos of any organisation has people at the heart.  Now more than ever it is crucial to consider the interests of who we work with and to double down on these human connections.

According to Businesssolver’s “State of Workplace Empathy” survey of 2019, 91% of surveyed CEO’s found that empathy is directly linked with a company’s financial performance. 

By simply listening to the challenges faced by employees and trying to find solutions through understanding, people feel cared for and ultimately calmer in situations of stress. When people feel heard and understood, they intrinsically feel valued and this translates to a drive to perform better. It is important for organisations to inculcate a culture of caring in the workplace. This entails curiosity and listening to co-workers. Asking the right questions while holding judgement at bay can create a tight-knit workforce and allow people to engage more happily. A closer knit team will benefit the organisation. 

The simple strategy/philosophy here is that if you take care of your staff, the business will take care of itself. Not only is this munificent, it makes business sense. With regard to the pandemic, just as the choices we make are community choices and economies are interconnected and interdependent, so are organisations and its people.

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