Leading with Compassion
More Flexibility, Visibility and Heart is Needed by Managers During this Challenging COVID-19 Era
Does this scenario sound familiar? You are reaching out to your employees via Zoom or Hangouts or GoToMeeting or any other online meeting platform in their home offices, translation: their spare rooms, kid’s room, or living- room at home. You are trying to follow up on an important project, but the onlinemeeting is not going too well. One employee has a child that keeps interrupting to get hugs and ask for help playing Lego Star Wars on his tablet. Another must be muted because her poodle is barking incessantly. One is absent because he urgently needs to care for his sick mother living at a facility a few miles away. And three employees are having trouble getting access and can’t log into the meeting at all. On top of that, maybe there are issues in your own home office? Your children are needing you, asking for a hug, needing help with a school project.
How can you possibly lead a regular meeting during times like these? How can you maintain normalcy at all in your business operations right now?
The simple answer is you can’t. Don’t even try. This is not business as usual, and requires a fresh approach and plenty of compassion, flexibility and open communication with your people.
Daily life – at home and at work (one and the same now)— has radically changed for everyone. An onslaught of challenges is upon us: social distancing, quarantine, homeschooling and online learning for kids, activity suspension and sudden job loss for many, along with long grueling hours in scary conditions for essential service employees.
Governments and employers have a common statement: “Be safe”; many coaches, influencers and leaders suggest love, hope, calm and other positive emotions; and spiritual gurus recommend practicing meditation, prayer and kindness. So, what is the mantra for your leadership teams in terms of managing employees?
In addition, working conditions have changed. Running or attending online and videos meetings is now the new norm. Protective shields masks, gloves and sanitary wipes and other personal protective equipment are the new mandatory business supplies needed for your front-line workers.
In other words, very quickly, we have seen the almost total ‘collapse’ of our ‘normal’ ways of living and working. Human experience is impacted and for the labour force, we can say employee experience is of course impacted. But what is employee experience?
Gallup defines the employee experience (EX) as the journey an employee takes with the organization.
According to Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, three environments influence employee experience: (1) The physical environment– which comprises 30% of EX and entails everything that characterizes the work space, meaning “anything that can be seen, heard, touched, and tasted like desks, chairs, art, and meals.”; (2)The technological environment – which comprises 30% of EX and pertains to the technology tools an employee needs to perform in their job and; (3) The cultural environment–which is the ‘vibe of the organization’ and comprises 40% of EX and encompasses how employees feel about the actions that are taken and approaches that are adopted inside the organization (e.g. leadership style, total rewards programs.).
So how can you facilitate a great employee experience right now? Help your employees overcome fear and stress and help them maintain a personal sense of wellbeing, while at the same time keep the wheels of productivity in motion for your organization?
It starts with collaboration, dialogue and creating a safe space. This starts with listening and encouraging your people to share their thoughts and feelings about what they are experiencing. Find out what they really need and value from you, their employer. More flexible schedules? Support with Internet connectivity? Emotional health resources? Then you can respond meaningfully by implementing or adopting programs/approaches that resonate for everyone.
Here are few tips.
Tip #1. Put yourselves in your staff shoes by being an inclusive leader recognizing and accepting any type of diversity. We are all in this together.
Let’s not forget that working together in an office allows us to see some types of diversity (e.g. race, religion, culture, age, sex/gender, sexual orientation, disability). Working from home reveals different types of diversity, notably: the place of residence and the family status. How can you ensure a ‘climate of inclusiveness’ in that context?
Compassion and flexibility for caregivers
Some of your employees who work from home might be challenged with caring for children or older parents, for instance. Ask them to continue to handle work professionally but be willing to understand and forgive if unexpectedly at some point during your phone or video meeting you can hear or see a kid popping up in the background for instance. Also, empower your entire team to behave the same.
Respect for their places of residence
Keep in mind that some members of your staff might live in a home where it is challenging for them to create a professional office space. I suggest two options:
Option 1: Offer option of phone meetings
Make everyone at ease and avoid discomfort by simply giving employees the option to join meetings by phone if they don’t want to join by video.
Option 2: Offer home office set-up assistance
If you absolutely want all your staff to be on video, reach out to everyone individually and ask them if they feel comfortable to be on a video call, or not. If not, and the home office space is the issue, offer assistance to the employee to set up, create a workable office space. Do they need a subsidy for Internet? Help with transforming their home environment? Maybe your company has a budget for these types of scenarios or maybe a staging specialist could provide assistance based on their budget, or a subsidy from you? Or maybe you can help them creating a virtual background with your video conferencing software.
Tip #2. Communicate frequently and connect with your people
The manager’s communication has much to do with the employee experience. So, communicate with your staff with the intention of knowing their reality and offering support. For instance, find out about their day to day life working from home, or working in the field as a front-line worker or health care professional. What bothers them about the current situation? Is there any aspect of their working condition that they think you can improve and how? What motivates them to wake up every day and work and what could stop them?
The goal is to have a genuine discussion while supporting them. You might not see yourself as a coach, but you could transform yourself into a great listener, into someone who connects with others. First listen carefully to what they share. If what they share relates to you or an experience you had, then, be generous and vulnerable and share your personal story. Researchers like Sherry Hamby, Ph.D. have confirmed that ‘sharing your story can help others’ and it does not matter if you are a TED show speaker or not.
Tip #3. Optimize the physical and technological environments
Find out if employees have adjusted to their new working conditions and see if the organization can do something about it. For workers in the field, do they feel, the organization has maximized their safety while serving clients? Do they need additional protection?
If employees work from home, are they acceptably or fully equipped to do their job? What have they said is missing or wish they had at home?
Have you introduced a new technology platform recently? Is all your staff comfortable using it? Is there anyone who need some training?
Tip #4. Keep structure: uphold some regular practices and employee rights to breaks and overtime
Regardless of whether they are working from home or not, their employment contract still applies. Continue to keep the relationship between your staff and the organization strong, stable and in compliance with the law.
Investing your energy in the employee experience (EX) will not only help you support your workforce during the current crisis, it will also help you strengthen your business and have a direct impact on Customer Experience or CX. Particularly, it will demonstrate your level of connectedness with your people and your commitment to be ONE with your staff by cooperating, connecting and empowering them during these interesting times. Achieving this will not only make you proud and a hero for your workers, you’ll also distinguish yourself as a leader in your industry. After all, organizations that focus on EX are:
- 11.5 times as often in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work
- 28 times more often listed among Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies
- Earning more than 4 times the average profit and more than 2 times the average revenue as other businesses. (Morgan, J. (2017). The Employee Experience Advantage).
So, have you checked in personally with your employees today?