4 Prescriptive Measures HR Can Take for Troubling Times

We’re going through a global pandemic. We’re going through a global movement for racial justice and social equity. Economies are faltering. Businesses are shuttering. These things require a strong, sound organizational response. As business leaders, we know that we need to know how employees are feeling.

A lot of organizations, especially younger companies, have relied on informal methods of understanding employee sentiment. Some of the more laissez-faire methods are having one-on-one conversations with people, or sensing the vibe, or having off-the-cuff conversations in the communal kitchen. While there’s nothing wrong with this kind of casual feedback, we know these don’t give us an accurate representation of how people feel.

As HR professionals a good many of us have transitioned from traditional annual engagement surveys to tools that let us solicit more frequent and immediate sentiment. We’re looking for a level of insight about what’s happening in our organizations at a moment in time. More and more of us also recognize that hearing the voice of employees encompasses diagnostics so that we can monitor and address what’s changing in our organizations. A survey is so much more than an engagement measurement. In this environment especially, it’s less a retrospective and more about learning what it takes to get in front of these new problems. What ARE employees’ thoughts – not just around remote work and getting back to work – but how they’re feeling personally too?

The healthcare crisis has caused an economic shutdown which has led to mass layoffs and full-out terminations. During this period people have been impacted professionally in a range of different ways. Some people have had their hours changed. Others have been reallocated to different jobs.

With all of that said, here are 4 measures HR can take to tackle troubling times:

Rx#1: Embrace Transparency

Some organizations are leaning into transparency in a heightened way. They’re sharing with their employees the financial state of the organization, the different scenarios they’re planning for, and what the operational plans of each of those scenarios look like. But in this world of uncertainty and not knowing what’s going to happen next, telling people what the financial numbers look like or what the hiring plans are – is nice – however, don’t just give the what, give the why, and also make it a two-way conversation.

Transparency during bad times is essential. It’s not just morally the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do as well. It helps with long term positioning and reputation. It builds and reinforces organizational values: things like trust, like integrity, and courage. And it helps leaders confront the challenges and complex problems of these times by encouraging innovative thinking and novel ideas.

Measures HR - Support Leaders Remote Work

Rx#2: Create Psychological Safety

Something about transparency that’s really important is to align our culture with psychological safety so that employees know it’s safe to give real, uninhibited feedback. So that employees feel like communication is a cooperative, give-and-take exchange. So that employees trust that if they share an observation if they suggest a big idea, they’re not going to be met with criticism or personal ridicule. They’re actually going to be listened to and heard.

RX#3: Support managers dealing with new, remote work challenges

People respond to different situations in very different, individual ways. And for people managing teams working from home either fully or partly this is doubly challenging.

First of all, there’s a lack of role clarity between work and home. Rules are more ambiguous and boundaries are subsequently blurred – and this is likely to continue.

Individuals have limited time and capacity to transition back and forth from work to personal time, Managers are dealing with more distractions themselves and among their team – and this is likely to continue.

Inequities are also surfacing because not every person has the same work setup at home; that creates some challenges as well.

All of this means managers are facing more challenges when it comes to expressing expectations and norms for individuals and the team, and checking in on the emotional well-being of individuals and of the team. Beth Corcoran, Founder and Managing Director of business consulting and coaching firm Ascenditur, prescribes:

  • increasing their level of self-awareness so that they can be a little bit more attuned to the difficulties on their team
  • building psychological capital by increasing abilities around emotional intelligence
  • creating a community of managers for sharing and learning and empathizing “because we’re all experiencing a lot of similar situations.”
Measures HR - Communication

Rx#4: Foster a culture of compassion and connection

Because of a lack of face time, it’s difficult to understand stress behaviors when we’re not actually seeing each other throughout the day. These stress behaviors are likely to increase, potentially around relational isolation, which creates challenges around collective belonging. We can’t necessarily know what the needs, or interests, or motivators of employees are unless they tell us.

As HR leaders we need to drive a culture of compassion that demonstrates our organizations really DO want to know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of employees.

Being able to provide some form of social connection in the midst of physical distancing and remote work isolation is important for us as human beings. Transparent and regular communication from senior leaders and managers working from their homes illustrates a real, visceral level of openness and vulnerability that reinforces connection. For instance, take the story of Lisa Kimmel, the chair and CEO of communications company Edelman Canada. In an article for the Toronto Star, she writes about how she broke down and cried in front of her team and why CEOs must lead with the heart to get through a crisis. “Within seconds…the waves of encouragement started. Dozens of messages and heart emojis filled my screen as my team offered their support — a unique and poignant reminder that despite none of us being in the same room, we were all together.”

As HR strategist Mark Edgar summarily suggests, “It’s time now for all of us to be a new kind of CEO – Chief Empathy Officer.”

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