Extraordinary events require extraordinary thinking, responses and more importantly – actions.
Ok, we’re all in this together. COVID-19 is affecting literally everyone in some way. Take a deep breath. Think of the front line workers, the people who are very sick, on ventilators, their families, their loved ones. If you are working from home, try and put these ‘hardships’ in their proper perspective by thinking of others who are laid off or having to work very long hours, etc.
What should leaders be doing in these times? Employees are either still working and maybe overloaded and/or working in risky health situation, or they are working from home or they have been laid off or even terminated.
How should leaders be dealing with each of these distinct groups? And why is it important?
In my Best Management Practices training sessions I do, I always explain the Event + Response = Outcome (E+R=O equation) to managers. (this is from Steven Covey’s material) This however applies to everyone, not just managers. Let me explain:
The reality is that we often have little control of events that come at us, some are good some are not so good, like a tornado, a flood, a pandemic, an unexpected death, etc. We are however 100% in control of how we personally choose to respond to these events. So, if you liken this to an algebra equation, (1+1=2) if we have 0% control over the event and 100% control of how we personally choose to respond to the event, then we have at least 50% control over the outcome (O). However, we have all been taught to blame 100% of outcomes on events. But, it doesn’t have to be this way because we are always in control of how we choose to respond to these events.
Successful people take a different approach to events. They simply change their responses (R) to the events (E) until they get the outcomes (O) they want. You can change your thinking, change your communication, change the pictures you hold in your head (your images of the world) and you can change your behaviour (the things you do). That’s all you really have control over anyway. Unfortunately, most of us are being run by our habits. We get stuck in conditioned responses to our spouses and children, to our work colleagues, to our customers and our clients, and to the world at large.
You have to gain control of your thoughts, your images, your dreams, daydreams, and your behaviour. Everything you think, say, and do need to become intentional and aligned with your purpose, your values, and your goals.
If you don’t like your outcomes, change your responses. I can’t help but think of the social distancing and stay home requirement right now which is a response to the event. If this social distancing and staying home is our response we will have a different outcome than if we do not practice this as our response to the event. The simple point here is that we are in 100% control of how we choose to respond to the event.
The point in all of this, is that as leaders we all have the ability to change the outcomes by how we personally choose to respond to the event – and we should choose our response (R) carefully.
First, people need a sense of hope and of trust that their leaders have their best interests in mind. What do we mean by this? Quite simply, human beings are social beings. We need social interaction for our mental well being, a sense of belonging. This is how we are hard-wired as human-beings, we can’t help it. This pandemic and resulting business closures has disrupted what makes us able to normally function as human beings, it has forced us to adapt, to change our responses.
So, employees will truly appreciate communication (well thought out response from the event) from leaders to tell them what is going on with their work. Of course there may not be answers forthcoming to this question, but this does not mean you should be silent. To the contrary, much better to keep in regular communication with your employees. This provides them a sense of belonging and without getting into too much psychology here, it helps with their own self-actualization. Uncertainty breeds fear. Fear often leads to irrational decisions and sometimes poor health choices. So, by regular communications, you can somewhat deal with the fear factor.
In 5,10, 20, even 30 years from now, employees will remember in vivid detail how their company or their leaders treated them in these times of fear and uncertainty. I have personally heard of many stories of significant happenings many years ago and employees still harbouring ill feelings about how they were treated. Maybe “treated” is the wrong word here, maybe better to say how their employer ‘made them feel’ during these times in terms of their actions about their employment and their employer and their personal self worth and value to the company. This is where actions speak louder than words come in to play. What you say is important, however what you do is what really counts.
What can employers do about laid off employees?
Show that you care about them via regular communications such as email, social media, company intranet, phone conversations or even post mail. Even if there is not much to tell them, that is news in and of itself. Be authentic, don’t try to have answers for things that have no answers. Be careful not to pontificate about future actions if this crisis continues for a certain length of time. That essentially is fear mongering and may not be realistic unless you can accurately predict the future. Try to think of the future in a positive aspect and how at some point this will all be behind us and the lessons we can all learn as people and companies will help guide us in the future. As much as possible talk of the future of the company in a positive sense – but again be realistic too.
If you can afford it financially as a company, try and help out these laid off employees. A grocery store gift card, helping to have groceries delivered if in self isolation or even quarantine, a gas gift card, drug store cards, all these types of things show that you are thinking of them and more importantly that you care.
These laid off employees have time on their hands and they still know a lot about the company and their jobs. Perhaps engage them in a thinking exercise of how can we be a better place of work when all is back to normal. Have a contest asking employees what ideas they have that could be implemented that will either improve health & safety, reduce operating expenses, improve the customer experience or improve overall company communications. You could offer $500 in each category for the best idea and also still provide some monetary prize for all suggestions. This engages employees, tells them their views are still important and lets them know you still see them as a valuable part of the company. (I can already hear the naysayers now saying people are more worried about paying rent and getting food on the table than in helping the company out with good ideas) I get that and this at least perhaps allows a diversion from that and lets your employees know at least you are thinking of them, you value their thoughts and that you also care about their well being. We don’t live in a perfect world.
For employees that are still working but in higher risk health situations, such as dealing with the public or higher than normal volumes, you can consider a temporary pay raise to recognize this. Recognition can also be in the form of verbal recognition, gift cards or even a letter of recognition signed by the owner or company President. Employees tend to hang on to personalized letters and cherish them for many years. Framing this letter is also an option. They often value this over the longer term above even monetary awards. (at least in my experience) Verbal praise and recognition also goes a very long way. Positive feedback is one of the easiest things to do as a manager and also one of the most powerful as proven by research. It is indeed long lasting.
For employees still working who are less affected by the crisis, still good to connect with deserved recognition even if only to say, we appreciate you being here everyday, your efforts aren’t going unnoticed.
In summary, communication to all employees whether working or laid off is critical and will help employees in their day to day life as we all navigate this pandemic. There is no downside to frequent employee communications.