More than 1 million employees have been reported as furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. But there are many thousands of workers still operating from home or – where appropriate – their place of work. How can employers support their employees who continue to work, asks Kimberly Cassady?
Furlough, redundancies, lay-offs. As more organisations consider measures that reduce the number of their workers, what does this also mean for those employees left behind? Certainly, this is not an easy work atmosphere for anyone to navigate and your remaining employees will be feeling the strain.
While companies are having to turn away employees due to the lack of business coming in, the ones being kept on will likely be having to pick up additional work, take on other colleague’s responsibilities and perform tasks far outside their usual remit, potentially covering multiple roles.
Issues for employers during Covid-19
With an increased tendency to not be able to switch off but be ‘always on’ working from home, this could all lead to employees burning themselves out. Not to mention, the added stress of employees worrying about whether they may be the next to go.
Faced with this situation, more than ever, it is vital for organisations, and HR in particular, to be authentic.
Don’t panic but don’t overdo it
There is a belief that the best approach to the current situation is simply to soldier on, inspiring staff with shows of calm and confidence. Of course, your employees want reassurance right now and this is not the time to be inconsistent or make unfounded decisions, but take this stance too far, and it may have the opposite effect.
It’s a hard balance to strike but you also don’t want to come across as cold or unempathetic.
Simply carrying on the day-to-day with no acknowledgement of the current situation and especially of those employees that have been furloughed or even made redundant, will most definitely give the impression that your employees are dispensable rather indispensable to you.
Even with the best intentions, an attitude of business as usual may give the impression of business above all else.
Instead, when it may already be hard for those employees left behind to stay motivated and productive, you need to be building them up. Show how important your employees are to you and your organisation and that you are there to support them.
Honesty is the best policy
Now, more than ever, authenticity is what is going to help get your employees through this time of stress and uncertainty. They’re not only dealing with the burden of an increased workload, but also the mental burden of second-guessing your company’s plans. So, tell them as much as you can without increasing panic or fear.
While it is difficult for anyone to currently predict what may happen next, be open about that. Outline possible scenarios or new measures that could come into play, and most importantly, provide set timelines for when you’ll be able to share more information or confirm any next steps.
Communication channels between all employees also need to be opened up, including with top leadership. As well as filtering down messages from the top, employees must be able to feed back their concerns and questions.
In the end, this is what will help both HR and the wider business to better understand employees’ specific worries and what they need and want to know. But if you don’t have the answers to all their questions, don’t worry but be upfront about it (it’s unlikely you will be expected to anyway). What’s most important is that your employees still feel heard.
Show your human side
The biggest impact of some employees being forced to go and others having to stay is on your company culture and morale.
You need to help rebuild relationships and trust. At this time, no employer can or should expect that employees won’t need to make adjustments, trying to juggle home schooling kids, looking after loved ones or helping vulnerable neighbours.
Be flexible and let your employees flex hours if they need. Show that you trust them to get the necessary work done.
Look outside of the daily workplace as well. Create a space for non-work topics like introducing company-wide yoga sessions, lunchtime learnings for baking tips or hobbies people have picked up during lockdown or, if your company used to have Thursday socials, pop in a Thursday evening Zoom call for people to just have a chat.
Social calls can also be an opportunity for employees on furlough to join in and still feel connected.
Most importantly, allow your employees to be themselves. Here, HR and leadership needs to lead by example and show that you’re human too.
So, on your next zoom call, turn up with your dog on camera, give a little tour of your home, or just laugh at your kids causing chaos in the background.
Far from weakness, showing vulnerability will make you far more relatable – employees will see that you are going through the same thing and you understand. Knowing that everyone is in this together is what will bring everyone closer.
While humans are having to physically distance from one another, that doesn’t mean distancing from our humanity.
Leadership and HR must show and act upon their understanding and empathy of how difficult this time must be for those employees left behind in the workplace.
We are all human and that’s what organisations need to remember whilst trying to navigate this difficult situation and getting used to a new kind of ‘normal’.