Maintaining morale and engagement during uncertain times

We are living through unprecedented change. The virus and the way we as a nation, and as a global community respond will be studied in text books for years to come. Future generations will learn about the impact Covid-19 had on our ability to withstand and fight disease, our ability to remain resilient, the way communities came together, the way we learnt to adapt to the new normal and the rapid adjustments we had to make. They will also learn about the affect it had on our economy, our jobs, our ways of working and the seismic shift, which will no doubt come, in moving away from the norm of office working 5 days a week to more flexible, agile working.

But, what are we learning right now? What are business leaders planning for as we are told that we will continue in some form of lockdown for many more months? What further changes will need to be made? And importantly, how do we adapt to the new normal?

Having spoken to a number of business leaders over the past few months and having read some glowing reviews on LinkedIn by employees, there are some consistent themes that demonstrate what good leaders are doing well, as well as learnings to be taken:

Communication is king: Whether you are leading the country or leading a company the importance of good, clear and open communication has never been more important. Leaders who are able to communicate with their employees openly, honestly and with genuine compassion build trust and understanding, even if difficult decisions need to be made. Don’t underestimate the impact on-going, regular, two-way dialogue has on employee morale, even if it is just to provide the company’s outlook on recent government changes – people want to understand what this means for them and the future direction of the organisation.

Honesty is the best policy: Lots of organisations are facing challenges and difficulties as they navigate through these uncharted waters. Many companies have had to furlough staff and many others will have to look at cost savings in the near future as some form of lockdown continues. Inevitably, this often means looking at headcount reduction and office moves/closures. If this is the case, don’t hide it. You may not have made a firm decision on this yet, however the worst thing leaders can do (often in an attempt to maintain morale) is to tell their employees that everything and everyone will be fine. The impact of wrong messaging may well have lasting consequences for many years to come.

Innovate: I spoke with an L&D Director recently who told me that rather than furlough the L&D team, the organisation had decided to use them to provide mental health and well-being seminars and support to employees. Other organisations have arranged Friday afternoon ‘zoom drinks’ and lunchtime online exercise classes, hosted by their own teams. Is it the same as seeing your colleagues/friends in person? No, but it is the next best thing and provides a sense of community and team spirit in what can be very lonely and isolating times for many people

Plan for a worst-case scenario: It’s the last thing we want to do – focus on the negative, however if you know that some serious business changes need to be made that will impact your people then plan and prepare for it. Have support in place, reach out to organisations that can assist, whether that’s to help with relocation, change management, organisational design or outplacement in the case of redundancies. Having support in place should you need it may well save you money in the long run, as well as demonstrating to your employees that whilst difficult decisions may have to be made, provisions will be made to help them through the change and mitigate the impact. At a time when many other organisations will face reputational damage as they plough ahead with changes with only the bottom line in mind, make sure your organisation is remembered for the right reasons.

We’re all in this together: It is important to remember and remind others that we are all impacted by the effects of the current global pandemic. This, unlike other major recent economic challenges (financial crisis, subprime mortgage crisis, credit crunch) is impacting everyone. Our daily lives, routines, interactions have all been restricted and changed regardless of who we are and what we do. If organisations do have to make changes to the way they work, where they work and how many people they employ moving forward then they are not alone, thousands of other organisations are currently planning for the very same things. Of course, knowing this doesn’t make it any easier, particularly if you are having to let go of people – this is where communication and compassion is key. As leaders, this is also no doubt impacting you too and your senior teams. Take time out for yourself, support your teams, reach out to your networks and do the best you can. It is all any of us can do as we navigate the new normal.

Jas Dhesi, Client Director, INTOO UK and Ireland