How to Connect with Employees in Times of Distress
By: Justin Black
When natural patterns in our work and personal lives become impacted by a major event like the coronavirus pandemic, that disruption can introduce significant emotional and psychological distress. Seemingly overnight, there is an urgency to have access to trusted news sources and facts, and for employees to work from home to prioritize their health and safety. It also has a very personal impact on our core human needs for safety and security. Without addressing these fundamental concerns, it’s difficult for organizations to run “business as usual.”
So what do people need from their employer to remain happy, productive and successful during times of distress? The simple answer is: the same things they need all the time. People want to feel valued and confident about the future of their organization, as well as their place in it. They also want to experience a sense of belonging, trust their leaders, be clear on where they should focus, and have a sense of stability in their work.
Employees also need to be reassured that their organization and leaders are prioritizing their safety and needs. This is where organizations can demonstrate humanity in a big way—designing policies that make it easy for employees to work remotely, minimizing business travel, and providing access to healthcare and resources, such as backup childcare. Employees also have a heightened need to receive timely, accurate, and candid communications about what’s happening and the impact it may have. Equally important, they need to feel empowered to express concerns and exert control where possible to protect against uncertainty.
Continue to build habits that support agility and resilience
There are known ways for organizations to remain agile and resilient, and we recommend you continue building those habits:
- Frequently gather employee feedback on important topics
- Equip managers with insights that help them address people’s needs
- Have regular team conversations about team needs and actions
- Have regular manager/employee conversations about individual needs and actions
- Take action on feedback in a way that improves organizational and individual success
In uncertain times, these habits help organizations and their leaders understand employee needs; assess employee perspective on the organization’s strategy and actions; tailor their response to local and functional requirements; and make ongoing improvements to help keep people focused and secure during stressful times.
Embrace employee feedback, don’t shy away from it
Checking in with employees, in live conversations with small groups and on a greater scale with employee engagement surveys (pulses), makes people feel heard and involved, and it gives leaders insight into what people need most during times of distress to help them be happier and more successful. If you’re wondering whether to carry on with your previously scheduled engagement pulse, our answer is, “Absolutely.” Here are some common questions we hear and responses we give regarding how to approach feedback in times of distress:
“We don’t want to create extra anxiety by sending a pulse right now.”
Employees are already experiencing anxiety. That anxiety is heightened when they have needs that aren’t being met by their organization and no way of voicing those concerns. Providing an outlet and a follow-up approach helps battle anxiety by giving people an avenue to surface concerns and exert control by co-creating solutions that address their day-to-day work experience.
“We know we’ll get negative feedback, so no need to ask.”
While it is not uncommon to see negative feedback in times of uncertainty, we have also seen many instances of positive feedback, in large part due to the confidence and support employees feel in the time of crisis. Look at employee feedback, specifically employee engagement pulse results, as a starting point to determine where to invest time and resources to continuously improve.
“We are already too overwhelmed with questions and feedback. We can’t possibly ask for more.”
Many employees go out of their way to make their voices heard, but many more do not. If you are only listening to the employees, leaders, or HR business partners who are best at advocating for themselves, you won’t have a representative view of what’s happening in your organization, and you’re at risk of focusing your response strategy in the wrong places. Additionally, employees’ needs during times of distress can be very “local,” so providing managers with access to insights on their people exponentially expands the number of leaders who are ready to help.
“We don’t want to ask for feedback if we can’t fix it.”
While it is true that some employee concerns cannot be resolved, missing out on actionable feedback that increases the success of your crisis strategy is much worse. Employees respond positively to candid responses about what can and cannot yet be addressed. Ways to mitigate this concern include:
- Encouraging ACT conversations at the team level so employees can see the results for their team and collaborate on focus areas. This also helps employees to see if their suggestions were shared by others or a one-off.
- Explaining the rationale behind where the organization has chosen to focus, or not focus, efforts.
Tips to maintain an engaged remote workforce
Since many employees and managers may be experiencing remote work for the first time, consider other forms of technology that facilitate connection:
- Encourage face time. Yes, it may not be in person, but ask employees to turn their videos on with video-conference technology to get “face time.”
- Encourage the use of designated communications channels. Teams, Slack, etc. help employees collaborate, share questions, and recognize each other. Try encouraging managers to post a question in a team channel each day: “What’s one thing we can do to better support each other right now?”
- Consider technology that facilitates meaningful conversations. For example, using technology for manager and employee conversations helps drive consistency and quality so employees are connecting on important topics on a regular basis.
- Offer resources to help your team continue to learn, grow. Remote work shouldn’t mean the end to all learning and development opportunities. Offer courses that add value and enrichment to the work and the experience your employees are having.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for organizations, so it is important to ensure that your unique needs are integrated into the design of your strategy. Our advice is to make sure you’re always addressing the people side and the business side, as both are critical as your organization faces challenging times.
For the latest on the coronavirus, LinkedIn has created a reliable editorial stream that you can follow and is offering courses about remote work for free with LinkedIn Learning.
As always, I want to know what’s going on for you and your organization. You can continue the conversation with me on LinkedIn.