Crisis is the true test of leadership, and 2020 feels a bit like the final exam. This year, we’ve weathered a global pandemic, widespread social unrest, environmental catastrophes, and unprecedented economic disruption. Leaders across the world have been forced to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and support their teams to successfully navigate through disruption.
During a crisis, the role of a leader shifts, and those that are truly great prioritize and respond to the needs of the people that follow them. If they get it right, they — and their people — will emerge stronger and more resilient on the other side.
The changing role of leaders
Before the pandemic, employee engagement was driven by experiences such as training and development opportunities, recognition, and an alignment between company and individual objectives.
A crisis however, causes those driving factors of employee engagement to shift. In fact, Qualtrics’ 2020 Global Workforce Resilience study found that employees are most engaged when they’re confident in their leaders’ decision-making, when their managers help them adapt to organizational changes, and when they know senior leadership takes their wellbeing into consideration.
Just a few months ago, company programs that focused on employee physical and mental wellbeing were often considered an “added benefit” to the employee experience. Now, they’re a fundamental part of company strategy.
People who have manager support at work are twice as likely to have the ingredients for resilience than those who do not
Great leaders recognize that employee wellbeing is a shared responsibility between an organization and its workers, and they assume this responsibility on behalf of the organization. But what does doing so actually look like?
Assume responsibility for employee well-being
Leaders who want an engaged and resilient workforce during a crisis or disruption will empower their managers to better support teams. This includes effectively equipping them with the information they need to prepare for change, providing them with autonomy to manage workloads, and take visible action on employee feedback.
People who have manager support at work are twice as likely to have the ingredients for resilience than those who do not (86% vs. 43%), and they are three times more likely to be engaged at work (79% vs. 23%).
Managers can better support their people by:
Helping to manage stress and workloads: In its simplest form, stress occurs when a person’s job demands are greater than the resources available to meet those demands. Right now, employee’s biggest stressors may extend far beyond the workplace. Manager support in and of itself is a huge resource that employees can lean on and buffer stress. In some cases, workload may be hard to reduce, but managers can increase access to and awareness of resources & support.
Focus on those most vulnerable: Junior staff and those who work in close contact with others during COVID-19 report feeling least resilient and safe at work. There is also consistent evidence that the impact of the pandemic is landing harder on some people more than others. Supporting these employees to manage their workloads, providing the resources they need to feel safe at work, taking visible action on their feedback and empowering frontline staff to make decisions that best serve their customers, are all strategic actions that great leaders are taking right now.
Going back to basics: Feeling physically and psychologically safe at work is a basic need for employees to show up and do their best work. Manager support and demonstrated care for the wellbeing of employees are emerging as core drivers of engagement. This means that leadership foundations of compassion, care, empathy, and transparency are more critical than ever.
Listen and act
More than 90% of workers said employee listening is either important or very important during this crisis, but only 51% were explicitly asked. Those who were given the opportunity to provide feedback were more positive about their resilience and well-being than those who were not asked. However, being asked for feedback and seeing no action as a result has basically the same outcome as not being asked at all. It is the belief that your perspective is taken into account by leaders when they make decisions, and that they care about employees that is related to positive outcomes.
Crisis is an opportunity to get the basics right
Leaders can communicate to employees how valuable their feedback is to the decision-making process by explaining how feedback will be used, ensuring communication reflects what employees are actually experiencing, sharing themes that emerge from employee feedback and how they have impacted a particular decision or action.
In 2020, leaders need to take responsibility for their employees’ wellbeing by supporting them, listening to them, and acting on their feedback. Crisis may be a difficult maze to maneuver, but it’s also an opportunity to get the basics right, and come out stronger on the other side.
A version of this article appeared on forbes.com, posted on September 30, 2020
EXPERD, Human Resources Consultant, Jakarta – Indonesia