One of the common observations raised by business owners and managers throughout the challenges of COVID restrictions has been the need to increase support for staff; and for some businesses, the support most valued by staff has been empathy and flexibility, transparency and honesty.
As Nathan Pearce, Director at Panorama Business and Financial, puts it, ‘We tend to seek reassurance on three key things in a crisis, health (ours and our loved ones), wealth (our financial security and ability to weather an economic downturn) and, once those have been confirmed, we worry about our identity. Who are we, what are the things that we feel define us, give us our sense of self?’
For many of us, our ability to confidently undertake work tasks, and our sure knowledge of our place within a work setting, have given us a comforting sense of personal and professional identity. When the workplace setting is suddenly stripped away due to a pandemic response measure, and our usual interactions are fundamentally changed, our anxiety levels will naturally rise.
Who am I, what am I doing today? What does tomorrow look like? These questions and concerns are understandably top of mind for staff when the workplace set-up is flipped on its head.
The unique, continuously changing nature of the COVID-related business and social challenges can lead to increased feelings of vulnerability and stress, and this is where empathetic engagement and collaboration on new work structures and norms can be valuable supports for staff; giving the staff reassurance, comfort, confidence in management’s care for them and focusing everyone’s energies on building resilience through challenging times. On moving to a remote working arrangement, Nathan introduced twice-daily online meetings with staff – one short and agenda-driven, the other looser and more focused on personal connections – and each added value to the team, supported staff through challenges and provided performance vision, as opposed to revision.
Simone Townsend, Practice Manager, looking after HR and marketing at Kenny Spring Solicitors, notes that their early adoption of mindful leadership practices and ongoing investment in emotional intelligence education programs for all staff has given back to the business tenfold. She points out that on top of feeling valued in the workplace, the staff has appreciated the positive impact the new skills have brought to them personally as well as professionally. It is this focus on emotional intelligence, impactful communication, empathy and collaboration that Simone feels has significantly contributed to the resilience of staff and their flexibility in responding to workplace changes resulting from COVID19 restrictions. She and Angus Edwards, Principal at the firm, are avid proponents of business investment in wholistic personal growth for the competitive strengths and enhanced cohesion it brings to the team.
Both Nathan and Simone’s businesses pivoted to facilitate staff working from home, and implemented planned daily communication activities for staff teams. By setting times and purposes to team online meetings they were able to set new structures to workdays and establish new connections to confirm that staff welfare was paramount.
Health, wealth and identity: It almost reads like a shorthand version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but these three elements are a good guide for managers when reaching out to staff and offering support each day.