By Nick Gold, MD, Speakers Corner
Now we’re a month into the lockdown business leaders are facing unprecedented challenges. Business survival is concentrating minds while simultaneously trying to plot a path to success when we emerge from this crisis. But the biggest challenge leaders need to rise to is to support the mental health of their teams, both those who are furloughed and those who are working in isolation.
The complaints we may have heard from employees pre-COVID 19 may seem trivial now but to take the same approach now will have repercussions for the business once the global economy begins to recover. Business leaders need to understand now, more than ever before, how they communicate and engage with their staff is vitally important for their retention of talent, but more importantly the mental health of their employees.
I’ll address those who have been furloughed shortly, but for those still working in the company, how they are feeling now seems to have been completely forgotten. Are they resenting the company for furloughing staff or are they resenting their colleagues as they struggle with mounting pressures of increased workloads?
Are they burdened by the pressure of knowing that both the fate of the business, and maybe more emotionally, the fate of their colleague’s employment status rests in their hands? The government was quite clear that the furlough scheme has been put in place to avoid redundancies and layoffs, so bearing in mind the current 3-month window for furloughing, businesses will need to be planning for post furloughing.
Why do I raise this? Well isolation breeds anxiety. We’re social creatures, we thrive and grow from the interaction we experience with other humans. Now, employees are alone. And they are juggling many different issues at the same time.
For those with children there are new challenges which only now starting to grapple with. Our work pattern and structure may need to change to fit in with their responsibilities. Those who needn’t worry about childcare have other issues to contend with. And there’s the big elephant in the room- job security.
Leaders need to have a mindset where they are asking themselves how we can best help our teams thrive and grow even in these challenging moments. Video meetings are en vouge right now, but leaders can use them to deliver a greater intimacy and deeper relationship with their teams, by showing their own vulnerabilities, by demonstrating they too need to sit at the dining table to work, that they are worried about their families, the future of the business, and that they too don’t have the answers.
The worst thing a leader can do right now is fudge their way through this period. Honesty is the best policy. If they don’t know the answer, I think we all agree it’s acceptable in these unprecedented times not to know what may happen in 3- or 6-months’ time!
However, while employees do at least have some comfort from being inside the tent, leaders still need to keep their furloughed employees onside. They cannot be left or forgotten about.
Again, the topic of mental health springs to mind. Furloughed employees might be experiencing both a loss of confidence and/or value as they question why they weren’t one of chosen to keep working or even guilt towards their colleagues, that the burden has been laid on their colleagues.
On the flip slide, for some, furloughing might be a release as they realise that they fundamentally weren’t enjoying their work, which was there to let them live rather be an integrated part of their lives.
This, again, on the surface sounds appealing but, as and when (and if I can speak on behalf of everyone, we all crave a return to some normality) they return to work, these feelings and antipathy towards their work will be ever more extreme but yet, there is every likelihood that the fluidity of job movement will be much more restricted in the future due to numbers looking for work. As such, will they feel even more trapped.
Thus the challenge for leaders is how they re-integrate employees who are now even more disengaged, or how they find a way to identify and help find their true passion which complements their skill set.
The financial sector is full of disruptors and entrepreneurs looking to take market share. Talented employees will find new opportunities regardless of the global economic situation. Fundamentally, for businesses to survive and thrive they need to win the hearts and minds of their employees.