A MODEL TO SUPPORT YOUR EMPLOYEES IN THE NEW NORMAL

By Archana Shetty




COVID 2019 pandemic has presented myriad challenges to businesses globally. It has impacted people like never before. This report states that nearly 7 in 10 workers claim the coronavirus pandemic is the most stressful time of their professional career; even more than major events like 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession, according to mental health provider Ginger. Every demographic including adults over the age of 55, rated COVID-19 as the most stressful time.

Gallup reports that levels of stress and worry has surpassed those recorded in past years. Compared with 2019, daily worry increased from 37% to 60% among the full-time working population. Daily stress increased from 48% to 65%. Forbes reports that one-third of adults ages 18 to 29 are in the high distress group, compared with just 15% of adults 65 and older. I found it surprising that pandemic stress is significantly higher in young people.

Studies have shown that people become less productive, more distracted and experience higher rates of illness with high level of stress for a prolonged period. This is also certainly not good for idea generation and creativity which is essential to innovate and revive the economy.

These are important data points for businesses to consider as employees return back to work and readjust once again. So what can organizations do to support employees as they are going through this transition physically, mentally and emotionally?

HERE IS A MODEL ADAPTED FROM SFA TO SUPPORT YOUR EMPLOYEES:
COMMUNICATE –

Communicate, in fact over communicate what your company is doing to safeguard the health and safety of employees. Convey how your organization is prioritizing the safety of all staff and share relevant policies and guidelines. Use different communication modalities to explain, “Here is what we’re doing to keep you all safe” and work with them to understand their questions and concerns. Over communication is better than under communication. It leaves less room for assumptions and fear.

Over communication is an inspiration I have drawn from ex CEO Alan Mulally who turned the Ford Motor Company around. He was deliberate about constantly reinforcing things and repeating himself because he wanted his people to get the message to the core.

How are you demonstrating that you are committed to your employees health and wellbeing?

CREATE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR EMPLOYEES TO SPEAK UP –

Create a safe space for employees to speak openly about their situation, their feelings, their concerns and their issues. Mental health issues are still seen as a stigma in our society. People fear speaking because of the fear of being perceived as weak and not tough. Only 50% of employees are comfortable discussing mental health issues according to this poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association. They found that one third of employees worry about retaliation or firing if they seek mental health care. One great way to reduce stigma is for leaders to be open about these issues. Share stories of what challenges you are going through and how you are overcoming them. When you show vulnerability, you are seen as trustworthy, courageous and authentic. Become the role model for employees to follow. As a leader if you can build a relationship of trust with teams and individuals who are experiencing intense stress reactions, you can help them recover more quickly.

What can you do to create a safe space in the months ahead, such that employees feel comfortable discussing mental health issues?

COMPASSION AND SUPPORT THROUGH EAP PROGRAMS –

Support employees with programs that would help them identify signs and symptoms of stress, burnout, anxiety, depression and how to cope with them. If a team member has found a coping strategy that works for them, encourage them to share with their co-workers.

Mindfulness practices help people cultivate mind-body awareness and deal with stress and anxiety effectively. Innovative Health applications like Welbot help improve employee health and wellbeing whilst in the office or when working remotely from home.

If your company does not have a holistic and comprehensive employee wellness program that includes coaching, stress management workshops, mindfulness programs, peer support groups and/or health counsellors, this is the time to implement one. And if you have the resources available at your organization encourage the staff to use them. Make it easy to access and easy to do.

What are some of the programs that you have or can immediately put in place to support your staff?
CONNECT WITH REGULAR CHECK-IN’S –

Be empathetic and sensitive to the people around you. Listen more. In tough times, employees are touched by simple gestures on the part of leaders. If you identify that they are having trouble staying calm ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Let them know that what they are experiencing is normal and there is help available. Your demonstration of support is a signal that the workplace cares. Gallup research shows that if people don’t have close friendships on the job and a manager who really cares about them personally, they won’t be engaged in their work. Their research reveals that the feelings followers need most from leaders are trust, compassion, stability and hope.

In a conversation with Mr. Kiran Shetty, CEO of Swift India, he told me about the regular conversations he and his executive team are having with their employees during these times to safeguard the mental health of their people. These simple gestures go a long way in establishing trust and strengthening the bond between workers.

What do your followers need most from you?
CONFIDENCE WITH HOPE –

When we feel distressed and helpless, we all need something to look forward to. Studies indicate that global citizens look to leadership to provide confidence that there is a way forward.

It is hope that helps us make sense of things we don’t understand. According to this Gallup study, employees whose leaders make them feel enthusiastic and hopeful about the future are 69 times more likely to be engaged in their work.

To help your employees see a new way forward and be hopeful about the future, share your own experiences with loss. Also ask about their stories – how they dealt through complex, adverse situations in their lives. Often times, with honest and deep conversations people realize that they are stronger than they think and that life is worth living.

Share what are some things your company is doing to recover from the loss. When you share optimistic news you can help people find hope.

Expressing gratitude for employees’ contributions is another great way to help people shift their focus. Tell them how grateful you are for the courage they are showing amidst their fears, and for being honest with you about those fears. When you communicate that they are a valued employee, and that you can work together to move forward, you can instill hope and confidence. In their book, Leading with Gratitude, Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick share practical ways for leaders to inspire others through gratitude.

What are you doing each day to create hope, even when it might be hard for them to see the way forward through the fogged glass?

Here is another systems-based model to minimize burnout, acute stress disorder (ASD) and decrease the risk of subsequent posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study is on physicians and I think the model is also applicable to businesses.

Dealing effectively with stress reactions caused by COVID-19 can improve employees health, quality of life, wellbeing and ultimately productivity, creativity and happiness at workplaces. These times require leaders to not only pivot to new business models, new products and services but also reconsider organizational strategies around employee well-being and how support is being provided at workplaces.

Leaders who step up and create work environments that meet these fundamental needs will set their organizations apart and will stand out from the rest. Based on the leaders vision and regular input from employees, this is a chance to redefine organizational and employee health. Your actions as a leader not only help stressed employees feel supported but it also has a ripple effect on all those who see the care you take with the most affected individuals. This helps employees remain loyal and bring out their best in the long run.

From this worldview, I believe this pandemic has given leaders a potential opportunity to touch lives and make a lasting impact on the lives of those you lead.



Archana is an executive leadership & team coach and mentor. She is the CEO of WELEAD Coaching & Consulting, a consultancy company that specialises in emotional intelligence, leadership development, team building and culture transformation. Her thought leadership is on collaborative and mindful leadership. She is in the top 100 Global thought leaders list curated by PeopleHum. She cares very deeply for Millennials and Gen Z and works on various projects to empower them with the right mindset, skillset and behaviours to help them build a world that we all would be proud of. 
www.archanashetty.com

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