How we treat our people in these challenging times will define how they experience us as an organisation not just today but for times to come.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”– Aesop, ancient Greek storyteller

These are very challenging times, and everyone is facing emotional, mental and physical turmoil. The second wave of the pandemic has been harsher than the first one, and has touched far more people. People are dealing with fear of the virus, for self and family, near and dear ones, many are also grieving over loss.

It is at this time that organisations will truly need to demonstrate their empathetic and supportive side. Leaders, people managers and HR, all have to be on the same page as far as providing the right employee experience and support is concerned.

An organisation might have well documented policies on medical assistance, insurance coverage, empathetic messaging from the leaders, communication and sessions on resilience but most employees experience organisations through their managers. Every interaction is a touch point. If managerial interactions are not in sync with the empathetic leadership messaging, or the  employee wellbeing focus that HR is driving, then the employee experience that one is intending to drive will not be achieved.

For many managers, business continuity, driving business results even in these tough times, not missing on targets during these months might seem very important, and they might be. But they cannot be at the cost of the emotional and mental well-being of their team members. People, are the only asset that appreciates with time, and we need to stand by them in these challenging times.

There are enough and more examples where policies rolled out by HR, for instance- no meetings on Fridays, Zero hour during lunch time, No calls after 7 pm that seem very employee friendly, are not adhered to in reality and often the non-compliance is driven by the need to get work done or targets achieved, even they seem unrealistic in the current scenario. So in addition to the fear of the pandemic, people are struggling with demanding people managers. This will inevitably lead to burnout and loss of productivity, and eventually disillusionment with the overall organisation.

Hence, building managerial capability to drive the desired employee experience, build psychological safety in teams in these difficult times is a priority organisations should not overlook.

Psychological Safety in teams hinges on three pillars- Curiosity, Empathy and Transparency.

  1. Curiosity- Encourage Managers to be Curious about the lived realities of their team members and not just about work. Encourage them to have regular check-ins that are not about work, but more about understanding what the employee is going through. Encourage managers to build a ‘Speak-up’ culture in their teams. Enable them to carry our group activities that enable team members to open up either in a one-to-one or in group settings.

“In one study investigating employee experiences with speaking up, 85% of respondents reported at least one occasion when they felt unable to raise a concern with their bosses, even though they believed the issue was important.” ― Amy C. Edmondson

  1. Empathy

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”-Daniel H. Pink

Managers will need to look at things from the perspective of team members. They cannot think ‘if I can do this, so can you.’. Everyone is in a different life stage, facing different challenges, has different ways of dealing with situations, and we need to respect those differences, and extend support and space unconditionally.

  1. Transparency

“Trust, honesty, humility, transparency and accountability are the building blocks of a positive reputation. Trust is the foundation of any relationship.”-Mike Paul

Keeping communication channels open, being available, providing answers and support in a timely manner, managers across all levels have to ensure that there is no trust deficit in the organisation in these trying times. We have all experienced what happened last year, the job insecurity, fear of lay-off, fear of salary cuts, fear of furloughs, fear of restructuring and those thoughts will not be far from peoples’ minds even bow. Addressing concerns transparently and providing them with clear answers rather than skirting the issue would be appreciated. Here HR, leadership and all people managers will need to be in sync on the right messaging and consistency of messaging.

In all this the role of HR is also extremely important. Providing the managers with the right communication, ensuring they have all the information that can be disseminated to employees, relevant and timely policy interventions that provide appropriate support to employees in these challenging times (Medical coverage, quarantine facilities, food delivery services, compassionate leave and compensation policy). Additionally they need to ensure that all other efforts being to reduce employee anxiety and stress are implemented in letter and spirit and conducting FGDs and one to one check-ins to do a dip stick can help them gauge the implementation on ground.

Leadership, of course sets the tone. When the Leader of a company comes on record to say that we will put all business operations on hold for a month or till covid settles down and will catch up on sales targets later, it gives out a very strong message. It builds trust, long term loyalty, a belief that the company truly cares, and this feeling cannot be bought, it can only be nurtured by the right messaging and actions.

To summarise, how we treat our people in these challenging times will define how they experience us as an organisation not just today but for times to come. So invest in employee experience and the managerial capability to drive that experience on ground with true intent. It is an investment, that will reap huge benefits for a very long time!