In times of crisis, we are once again challenged with how we can satisfy our primal human needs, such as our physiological and safety well being. This is evident when you see the shelves in supermarkets being emptied, even in an affluent and calm country like Norway, after its government enforces a two-week lock down to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared on the 11th of March that COVID-19 is a pandemic: “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, at a media briefing. Governments worldwide are doing their very best with varying degrees of measures to limit the spread of the virus.
In a pandemic situation, the strain on people goes beyond the physical. The COVID-19 crisis is also emotionally and mentally challenging for many as it uproots their day-to-day life in unprecedented ways. For companies, the saying ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option. But, are companies doing enough in this crisis to help lighten the burden of government?
Sure, companies have issued clear guidelines to help employees safeguard their health and hygiene. There have been clear recommendations about travelling for business and strict limitations enforced on attendance to large conferences and client meetings – purely on a need must basis. Employees have also been given all the necessary virtual and communication tools to communicate and work with each other. All should be fine, no?
Can companies take a more proactive role to help employees navigate their disrupted daily lives both mentally and emotionally? Being able to answer this question will not only help to ease society’s burden but it will also ensure that employees can continue to achieve more, even in times of uncertainty.
How can we help employees to continue to perform their roles in this time of disruption?
This time of apprehension demands more from managers.
As a manager, one should aim to be fully present and in contact with employees, to help and support them. It is important to help them to prioritise their workload so that they can remain focused.
Try to develop a normal workday. As humans, we all need structure within our lives, it helps to bring a sense of organisation and achievement. By creating a daily routine for your employees: Skype or phone-call meetings, keeping the same lunch-break time, making contact at the beginning and end of the day, you help to ensure that their day passes somewhat like a normal workday.
The media are filling our heads with frightening images, articles and facts. Instead, try to find a good perspective and promote that towards your colleagues. Perhaps you are able to learn a new skill, take an online study course, start practicing yoga or read those books that you have previously never had time for. It is important to focus on the positive and help your employees to do the same.
Try to actively focus on communicating with your peers! As a manager, it is important to make the effort to ask how each of your employees is doing, how are they feeling today? Show your colleagues that you care about them and that you want to relieve any burdens they may have, especially those who are isolated. An employee who feels supported will more likely feel happier and therefore have a clear mind ready to tackle the workday ahead.
How can we continue to motivate them when they are working remotely without the feeling of a team?
Now is the time to show your employees that you are not only their manager! Perhaps you can create online games to play during breaks or maybe have a group, Skype lunch. It is important that employees still feel like they are a part of the community.
In order for the work community to stay strong, the situation does demand managers and employers to keep the spirit alive and to be creative.
Ultimately, for most people their work-life has moved into their home and now the two are combined. Perhaps with all this spare time in isolation you can create a book club, a cookery club with ideas for healthy recipes or even a fitness club where each member shares their ideas for a home-workout? With the majority of people not leaving their homes it is helpful to motivate your employees and remind them that they are still a part of a team.
How can we make them feel secure when they continuously see and hear from news that companies are folding and letting go of staff due to demand shock?
Transparency is key!
Employees need to be aware of the direction the company is currently heading, so focus on the facts and not speculation. Although it is difficult, the company must try to keep business running as much as possible. This includes not stopping development projects: you want the company to remain future-orientated, communicate this to your employees! Over communication is better than under communication as it helps to bring a sense of understanding. Frequent and calm contact with your employees will help to ease their anxiety.
Sure, we work for more than just to make a living. However, in times of crisis, and according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need to make employees feel safe before they can move up the hierarchy to the stage of self-actualisation. That is the optimal stage, where they can not only achieve more for themselves, but also for you, their company.
Hilde is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Zalaris. She carries more than a decade each of executive HR management expertise and executive search consulting. Hilde joined Zalaris in September 2018.