The stress and anxieties of the coronavirus pandemic have pushed many workplace cultures to the brink of collapse. Here’s how the best managers have shown leadership.
By Ronelle Richards
This year has been a tough year for business, society, and culture. Words like unprecedented and uncertain have become increasingly prevalent in our communications.
Australians have watched New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern develop a masterclass in clear communication. Her delivery of public policy on the coronavirus measures gave her people – and much of the world – clarity on New Zealand’s position.
Workplaces are being confronted with complex challenges and grappling with how to communicate effectively. Muddled announcements can affect workplace culture, creating internal friction, anxiety, and cost organisations good employees.
What can be done to ensure your employees do not abandon ship?
Andrew Seinor FCPA, president of the WA division of CPA Australia and co-founder of the H Factor, says now is the time for businesses to articulate the difference they make to the world to both customers and employees.
Like many CPAs, Seinor has been swamped with requests from businesses trying to pivot their approach to survive COVID-19.
“I think it’s really important at the moment that businesses really understand their break-even point and to understand the sales they need to achieve to cover costs,” he says.
At the H Factor, to keep up with service demand, Seinor’s team repurposed their strategic planning into an online product to help business owners make rational business decisions during COVID-19.
Options down to three Rs
For Seinor, coaching clients in making tough decisions is about going back to the original goals – leaving business owners with three options:
Reset: how can the business get online or build an experience online
Reinvent: how can the business find new ways to deliver their service, whether that be how to reinvent the product or the service itself
Retreat: the least palatable option, but one that many businesses have had to concede
“We’re just helping all of our clients [to] make those decisions very consciously,” Seinor says.
"However, as our nation's culture changes amid COVID-19, so too will our employees’ and customers’ values," Seinor adds.
“These things are always present in our culture, like the importance of family connection, the importance of being healthy in a lifestyle way, the importance of friendship and mateship, and the importance of saving away a bit of money for a rainy day,” he says.
“Some of those things have always been prevalent in culture but what this crisis has done has brought into consciousness and will change behaviour, no doubt. Every business needs to realign to these values to stay relevant.”
A business has already spent significant costs on building a team, says Seinor, and retention is key.
“That’s the game everybody is trying to play at the moment: how do we retain our team to the fullest extent possible?”
Communication key to culture
Emma Hall, director of Vashti Performance Services, is a psychologist with expertise in organisational effectiveness. She is working closely with workplaces and clients with rising anxiety.
“We’re obviously facing something unprecedented for most of us, I think there are two things that are causing anxiety: it’s the feeling of uncertainty plus a lack of control – and that applies to both leaders and their employees,” says Hall.
“Put those things together and you're going to have a lot of anxiety in the workplace.”
Communication, says Hall, is key to maintaining a strong workplace culture, particularly now. While communication is increasing, it is not necessarily being used most effectively.
Ad-hoc communication of every new update can be overwhelming to staff, says Hall. Business leaders should be looking to keep in regular contact with employees to keep them engaged. Her top communication tips include:
- Daily communication is important whether it is a virtual town hall or a short, focused email.
- Create a forum for employees to submit their queries; this might be the last five minutes of a town hall being reserved for a Q and A session.
Check in with your employees on a personal level, but ensure it moves beyond this to work tasks. Leaders should be role modelling self-management and self-care for employees.
“People will remember, at the end of this, how they were treated by their employer,” says Hall.
“The leadership team needs to think about being in the shoes of their staff and think about what is in their control or power to treat their staff morally and ethically and to do the right thing by them ... it goes back to communication and having a clear action plan of how you’re going to support your employees and what is expected of them during this time.”