Compassionate, Involved Leadership is Essential While Weathering COVID-19
“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say” (Andy Stanley)
As a good leader, you should be more in touch with your people, your team, the boots on the ground, and the front line. Remind everyone that people are faced with (often unprecedented) challenges in these times, when this year the COVID-19 pandemic took a wrecking ball to our society and continues to wreak havoc. According to the Pew Research Center*, “unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession … from December 2007 to June 2009.” Pre-COVID, unemployment was at a historic low, 3.8% this February. In March, COVID hit, skyrocketing that rate to a whopping 14.4% in April. As of August, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics**, it settled down to 8.4%, albeit still high (over double) when compared to the booming pre-COVID economy. This vast swath of the newly unemployed workforce face enormous anxiety and uncertainty. Even those still employed now live with this as a much more prominent possibility. As a good leader, it is your responsibility to ease this anxiety, be honest, and work with your teams to provide solutions that will benefit everyone in the long run and encourage loyalty and collaboration going forward as we return to work.
You, as a leader, have a responsibility to know more, and do more, with that group. I am only as good as my team. And I’m only as good as my team’s team. It goes deeper than the VPs and directors. It goes to the people that are most directly impacted. Sending out communications and conducting all hands meeting and having people dial in, etc. is great, but I’m talking about calling your System Analyst and asking how they’re doing, ensuring they have all they need to do their job. Do they understand how everything that’s happening impacts the company and them - almost like a wellness check? We do things for our neighbors that we don’t think about doing for our workforce. Yet, in many cases, we see and interact with our workforce more than we do our neighbors.
The biggest challenges Needling Worldwide has faced, given COVID, were an emphasis on delaying certification and compliance efforts as well as internal audits required to maintain certifications already in place. NW was already set up as a remote model so the impact affected time more than effort. However, a lot of our employees are 1099, so they can’t claim unemployment. They had no plan B; and business-wise, Needling Worldwide is residually impacted when trying to reach a client’s former point of contact and, due to layoffs, the POC is gone.
It’s all about relationships, built over time and shared experiences while building the company. Many companies have allowed willing employees go to part-time hours for a pay reduction and with the intention of bringing them back full-time when the economy allows. A pay cut is better than no paycheck at all. Not giving employees that option indicates that, as a leader, you’re out of touch.
“You can tell me, but you must show me”. It’s understandable if you don’t have the money to keep people employed, but the human element needs to be considered in the delivery of that message. If you’re using this opportunity to weed out bad eggs; that’s fair. But if you have an employee you want to return, be frank with them that you fully intend to bring them back when that option presents itself. Be willing to find solutions together with your workers; they have solutions too and can help you solve many of the current state challenges. Employee Engagement & Loyalty Statistics*** indicate that “90% of workers said they are more likely to stay at a company that takes, and acts, on feedback.”
Post-COVID, some companies may not look any different from before as far as its business model. The only possible difference would be an even larger contract labor pool. Business really is dependent on what other businesses’ business as usual looks like in many cases. It may be necessary to start from scratch, building those new relationships. I think the trickledown effect from this pandemic surprised a lot of people. No one understood how far-reaching this was going to go. One example is seeing the drastic changes in some of this year’s iconic annual events, like the Indy 500 and Kentucky Derby: empty stands, food vendors and ticket takers out of work. There are countless other sporting and entertainment events similarly stunted, with the results being a huge economic hit.
Still, the greatest assurance leaders can give employees is that this shall pass. I think there will be some long-standing lessons to learn. We brought down that old regime axiom that workers must be in the office to get work done and live in expensive cities to get prime jobs. COVID proved that not to be the case.
Leaders must focus on coming out of this pandemic more resourceful and more sensitive to their personnel’s needs. We, as leaders, must value them as the engine that keeps our business running; because they are - and so much more.