From a business perspective, there are practical considerations, including payment and receipt of invoices, salaries, and continued maintenance of assets, that must be managed in conjunction with employees. It is necessary for leaders at all levels to maintain an interest in the financials, however you need remain aware of your personal physical and mental health, and that of your workers, who are likely to be experiencing higher levels of stress.
Increased stress and poor physical health can lead to increased levels of anxiety, resulting in poor mental health outcomes; and workers who are experiencing disruption within their work environment, and possibly at home, are at higher risk at this time. UNICEF recommends that employers engage directly with their workers, with a focus on consultation and identifying those who may require higher levels of support.
Adjusting to changed work environments and managing possible challenges at home (such as a change in household income due to job loss, the need to supervise home learning, and the introduction of restrictions limiting social contact and social activities) can have a significant impact on workers. People leaders are generally well-positioned to offer assistance at this time, given their existing relationship with their unit, and awareness of company culture and policies. Given support and guidance, managers can offer support and guidance to the wider team, and collaborate with senior leadership to address feedback and any themes that may be of concern.
Businesses can support their staff by ensuring that policies are relevant to the current environment and adapting practices to reflect this. A primary example is examining the way in which businesses evaluate and measure their staff’s performance. Organisations should consider the use and effectiveness of performance reviews and other forms of staff evaluation at this time, and recognise the limitations of KPIs that have previously been considered valuable (such as, sales per employee, foot traffic in physical stores). These statistics may no longer be relevant and/or reliable, and a focus on these types of measurements can cause increased levels of anxiety and stress for workers.
Keep things flexible
Modify expectations of workers to reflect the current climate and be prepared to be flexible. Businesses need to think unconventionally about other ways to measure workers’ performance and sales figures, possibly collecting data on overall customer satisfaction and retention, or website traffic, rather than the more typical targets. It is particularly important to consider workers who have been repurposed within a business, taking on new responsibilities that they may not be familiar with, as this group will also need KPIs that have been adjusted to reflect their new role and the current climate.
Organisational psychologist Dr Sarah Cotton has worked with a number of organisations focusing on employee wellbeing in the current environment and believes it is essential that businesses prioritise supporting their people at this time. She says, “anecdotal evidence tells us that workers have increased levels of stress and anxiety in the current climate.
“When conducting performance reviews through this unprecedented transition, take time to consider what contributions are most important and relevant. It is also important to remember that conversations during a pandemic should begin with questions about wellbeing not questions around performance.”
Dr Cotton recommends that businesses practice transparency and have realistic expectations of their people, while focusing on physical and mental health at this time. Organisations should promote existing support to workers, and consider investing in further services to increase levels of staff wellbeing and engagement. Assistance in the form of peer support networking, wellbeing webinars, Covid-19 intranet sites and increased contact points may encourage workers to reach out for support if they are feeling anxious or isolated within the workplace. Creating mechanisms for staff to provide feedback about their experiences can help to promote communication between all levels of staff, and is an opportunity for leaders to find out what is working and what needs to be improved.
Rethink, revisit, revise
Many businesses need to revise their expectations of their workforce and push for changes to policies and procedures that will provide customised support. Proactive behaviour can help to create and sustain a mentally healthy workplace and have a significant impact on employees’ mental and physical health. Changes made need to be realistic and reflect the changing environment and can include modifying the way in which staff are valued, the provision of flexible working arrangements, additional leave, and encouragement to utilise support services.
Leaders can play a significant part in furthering change, when supported openly by employers. They are in a position to gauge the effectiveness of new and existing practices and increase levels of collaboration to ensure that new processes are implemented successfully.
Businesses can assist by:
- Recognising current industry trends and how they have changed, and may continue to change
- Modifying expectations of workers in line with changes to their roles and responsibilities
- Evaluating existing KPIs and their value in the current work environment
- Educating workers around the importance of mental health and wellbeing
- Proactively supporting employees as they transition into new roles/ responsibilities
- Considering how workers may have been impacted by changes in their home environment
- Maintaining and improving staff morale and staff retention
Rachell Bugeja is project administrator at Transitioning Well, which helps shape and support parental leave, work life and mature-age transitions and provides services to fit the needs of organisations and employees.