6 Ways Leaders Can Strive To Build An Employee-first Culture In The Midst Of The Pandemic

Organizations are starting to realize the importance of putting employees at the center of their thinking and decision-making process. Even though the current pandemic has disrupted day to day lives, organizations that set a score by transparency, employee wellbeing, emotional wellness, and cultivating an employee-first culture, will see themselves survive the pandemic stronger than before. To move towards an employee-first culture, here’s where leaders can start.

Leaders Set The Tone

It falls upon the leader to determine how communication will be delivered in any organization. Your employees will look to you to see how you set the behavior expectation within your company.  Especially in the midst of the pandemic, you need to increase the cadence of your connection to employees. Host more frequent meetings with your executives and employees and create a forum that facilitates Q&A discussions, where employees can easily voice their concerns and trepidations.

See how the CEO of Yum brands gave up his salary to provide financial hardship grants to employees and fund one-time bonuses for general managers, as a token of his appreciation at their unflinching loyalty during such tumultuous times. Maximus President reassured his employees that their health and well being during the pandemic is his number one priority.

Practice Empathy

Despite the hardships, chaos and uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, employers need to do all that is in their power to reinforce that their people are their top priority and that that they will go to any length to make sure their livelihoods are protected. Companies that hope to survive the pandemic unscathed need to walk compassionately in the shoes of employees. Every day we hear of companies putting people first and hope to follow in their wake.

For instance, the CEO of Caterpillar withheld annual salary increases and bonuses to tighten expenses amid the crisis, while the CEO and top executives of Comcast donated their entire salaries to assist employees with pay and benefits where operations were compromised due to the pandemic. Walmart has promised to give employees an additional two weeks of pay if became ill with a confirmed case of corona-virus. These are chaotic times and employers need to do whatever is in their control to support their employees.

Give Employees Ongoing Flexibility

Employers need to understand that employees have one, integrated life. In addition to their work life, their children, pets, partners, friends, and house chores are also a part of their lives. With schools shut down and childcare unavailable, most parents are feeling quite apprehensive about returning to work. Similarly, most people can’t leave their pets alone at home for such long hours. On the other hand, most people are feeling quite anxious about a return to work in the midst of the pandemic and are fearing for their health.

As a leader, start by giving your employees the permission to take the artificial boundary of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. away. If they need to work odd hours to arrange childcare with their spouse, let it be. If they need to continue with remote working for a little while longer to take care of sick at home or satisfy themselves that the workplace is following all the COVID-19 protocols, let them.

We cannot highlight the importance of flexibility during COVID-19, when people may be dealing with a new working environment, the brunt of isolation, and new challenges at home. Let employees know that it’s OK to take a break to be with their children or just take a walk. Let them know that you understand their challenges and want them to be comfortable. When we’re happy, we’re at our best personally and professionally, and everyone wins.

Humanize workplaces

Most leaders believe that they have to hide their vulnerabilities if they are to be taken seriously as a leader. However, this isn’t entirely true. There are moments when people look up to leaders who have the courage to step up and be real. In most organizations, executive are like elusive ghosts that you hear about in whispered conversations but never get to see, let alone talk to. However, true leaders de-mystify secrecy and offer accountability that people crave. Leaders and executive who are authentic and transparent about the current landscape do wonders for employee engagement.

Viable home options

Most of your employees must still be working from home or in alternate shifts during the pandemic. You need to remember that not everyone has a ready-to-home office set up. For most employees, it is their first time working from home and they may not even have basic office paraphernalia to work comfortably.

However, we see great organizations implementing some sort of reimbursement programs to encourage employees to convert a space within their home into a viable remote office, with all the essential gear, be it a proper workstation, an ergonomic chair, or a top-notch webcam. Slack employees were provided with a $500 allowance to support their work-from-home transition. Some offices have also ordered specific items for employees to facilitate their remote working environment.

Water Cooler Chats

Your remote workforce must be craving for a connection with co-workers, peers, and even their managers. Meaningful contact with colleagues has become a hot commodity since these one-one check-ins or vis-à-vis meetings offer a platform to take the conversation beyond work and connect with people you spend a major portion of your day with.

This also gives managers and leaders a chance to check in on how employees are doing on a personal level, whether they are facing challenges in their new working environment, explore how their current environment is supporting them to fulfill their responsibilities and roles, and if they need any help with coping with isolation and lock down.

This is a great opportunity for managers to support the health and well being of their subordinates as well, especially those who have mixed emotions about coming back to work. Just look at how Axis Bank is offering virtual team catch-ups, online learning modules and virtual meditation sessions to its employees to make sure their teams stay connected despite the physical boundaries.

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