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COVID-19: 5 strategies to support and meet employee needs

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As the compounding effects of the COVID-19 crisis continue to take a personal and professional toll on the workforce, it is more important than ever for leaders to adopt practices to support employees as they navigate through uncertainty and help them remain engaged at work as they adjust to the new normal.

A Gallup meta-analysis found that in a crisis period, employees expect leaders to embody trust, compassion, stability and hope. These needs are met when employees feel prepared to perform their jobs, trust that leadership has a clear plan of action, believe their supervisors keep them informed and that their organization cares about their well-being.

These same factors lead to reduced role conflict, confidence in the organization’s success, communication and knowledge sharing, and organizational and supervisor support—all of which strongly predict employee engagement and motivate employees to perform at higher levels. How can HR and business leaders promote universal engagement?

  • Provide clear, frequent and truthful communication. HR should work with business leaders to create communication plans to keep their workforces informed of available resources and the organization’s status. Consider leveraging technology to send real-time announcements via microsites and portals, as well as through mobile push notifications or texts. Moreover, leaders should consider consolidating relevant clinical guidelines, education and HR information into a “one-stop shop” on the company intranet and regularly share updates with staff.
  • Offer reassurance and promote autonomy. By reiterating employees’ value to the organization and allowing them to make decisions, leaders can increase employees’ perceptions that their work is still meaningful and that they are responsible for its outcomes. This, in turn, can create a sense of normalcy while enhancing motivation and overall job satisfaction. HR and people managers should encourage leaders to set regular 1:1 sessions with employees to provide job clarity, while encouraging team members to take control over when and how they perform their work.
  • Provide emotional and instrumental support. Whether employees feel added stress due to isolation or lack of child care, it is critical that leaders show empathy and create space for staff to discuss challenges. Additionally, HR staff and business leaders should work with employees individually to determine practical solutions to address their concerns, such as offering child care resources or clarifying work priorities.
  • Lead by example. Leadership’s role modeling has a direct impact on employee behavior and organizational culture. For example, managers who send e-mails at all hours or refuse to take time off when they are sick will likely have employees who do the same. Leaders should demonstrate how to integrate work and family obligations and care about personal well-being through their own behaviors. This includes staying up-to-date on safety and public health responses and discussing their impact on business, as well as defining their own restrictions regarding work-life separation and valuing well-being.
  • Focus on what you can control. People are more likely to demonstrate dysfunctional coping mechanisms, including avoiding decision-making and micromanaging, in times of heightened, continuous stress. Nevertheless, people can tolerate higher levels of stress when they feel in control. Although we cannot control what happens in the global economy, leaders can control their responses to team members, as well as the practices they enact to mitigate the risk of infection and align team schedules.

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