The Workplace and COVID-19: What Employees Need From Leadership Right Now

October 02, 2020

Case categories include: Founder’s Insights   Leadership   

The Workplace and COVID-19: What Employees Need From Leadership Right Now

By Paul Witkay, Founder & CEO, Alliance of Chief Executives

COVID-19 is a global crisis unlike any we have known in our lifetime. While the personal and public health implications are profound, it is having a particularly transformative impact on business culture and day-to-day operations. As leaders work tirelessly to adapt to this changing environment, it’s important to remember that employees are also negotiating new obstacles and showing impressive perseverance in the face of adversity. As companies prepare for what’s ahead, understanding what employees need from leadership right now is critical.

Through my daily interactions with leaders within the Alliance of CEOs, I’ve seen firsthand how addressing these needs can be a complicated task filled with case-by-case variations. But while the specifics may differ, there are common elements that can set CEOs up for success—approaches shared in this article can help both you and your workforce pull through this tumultuous period.

Understanding Employee Needs

For employers, it’s important to remember that the pandemic has not only complicated the business world, but upended domestic life. Children need to be educated, elderly relatives need to be cared for, and physical/mental health must be prioritized. To maintain workforce productivity, leaders are finding that recognizing employee needs and offering support is more important than ever.

But what does this look like in practice?

Meaningful support begins by encouraging employees to be candid about their challenges and providing them with avenues to express their concerns. Surveys are a great way to accomplish this, as are individual conversations and group discussions, whether in-person or over Zoom. From this dialogue, you can gain insight into your employees’ struggles and develop strategies to overcome them. The resulting accommodations can take on many different forms, and success depends on thoughtful implementation.

The Three Most Important Things That Employees Need From Leadership Right Now

The Workplace and COVID-19: What Employees Need From Leadership Right Now

The above graphs detail how the employees at Alliance member companies have been working throughout the pandemic. As you can see, practices vary—and setbacks are common.

From my conversations with the leaders of these companies, I’ve seen that while each organization is approaching employee return in a unique way, they’ve all had to consider problems such as travel restrictions, changes in health/safety protocol, and acute anxiety. And although the challenges brought by COVID-19 vary, the solutions have certain common threads. Overall, I’ve noticed that what employees need from leadership right now largely falls into these three categories:

1. Clear Communication

Clear and frequent communication is always important, but it is needed now more than ever before. After all, the atmosphere of uncertainty created by COVID-19 can only be alleviated by education, information and fact-driven action plans. If your employees are left in the dark about how you plan to keep them safe and productive, anxiety and dissatisfaction will grow.

A good example is workplace safety. HR meetings centered around social distancing measures and PPE can bring ease of mind and provide practical tools for onsite employees. These meetings also give you the chance to lead by example and explain how you’re using the most up-to-date data to create the safest possible work conditions.

Additionally, in-person and virtual meetings provide valuable opportunities to share updates on company standings and clarify job expectations. They are also an ideal place to explain how employees can find support for individual challenges.

2. Flexibility to Meet Individual Circumstances

With the upheaval of everyday life created by COVID-19, some employees will inevitably find themselves in new circumstances that require accommodation. With productive dialogue, sensible solutions can be created that will help maintain productivity while ensuring employees feel safe and valued.

Take an employee who is concerned about social contact with clients because they have an elderly relative living at home. To resolve this, I’ve seen leaders find non-client facing tasks or positions that employees can take on to minimize contact with others. Similarly, flexible work hours and remote work options have been popular accommodations for employees who must now provide more at-home child care.

While not all problems can find easy answers, it’s important to make sure employees feel heard and have the ability to explore the resources available to them—which takes us to our final point.

3. Available Resources and Employee Engagement

Just as every company is unique, the resources best suited for different employee bases can vary. For example, some organizations are used to in-office collaborations and work events to maintain a lively, connected culture. Without these meetings, employees can begin to feel isolated and their work can suffer as a result. To prevent this, communication tools like Slack channels can be introduced to foster consistent conversation. For some, remote events like virtual happy hours have helped work relationships remain strong. Meanwhile, group meditations and yoga sessions can help employees cope with the stress of the pandemic and improve productivity. For others, counseling through an Employee Assisted Program (EAP) may be the best way to get back on track.

These are specific solutions for specific problems and they won’t work for everyone. But by listening to your employees and understanding what they need, you can find the resources they need to succeed.

We’re All in This Together

For your business to thrive in a COVID-impacted economy, it’s essential to develop strategies to maintain your employees’ productivity, provide them with peace of mind, and maintain a healthy company culture. Although this can prove to be more difficult than it initially sounds on paper, my interactions with Alliance members tell me that it is not only possible, it can actually strengthen the bonds within your company.

At the Alliance, leaders come together to share their experiences, insights, and solutions. This shared knowledge can help you discover how to help your employees and your enterprise weather the storm.

For more insight on what employees need from leadership right now and thoughts on other important topics, contact the Alliance of CEOs today.