Over the last 20 years, three significant events helped shape the workplace and how we work: the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, the Great Recession that started in 2007 and now, the COVID-19 crisis.
These events caused significant shifts in employee attitudes that have been studied through employee surveys administered before, during and after these specific crises. In the case of the pandemic, OrgVitality offered a free “Employee Well-Being and Business Resilience” survey to help both organizations and employees immediately after the full impact of the pandemic became clear.
This survey was made available as people were just beginning to come to grips with their work-from-home situation, or — for those deemed essential — as workers navigated the realities of commuting and working onsite in the shadow of a virus spiraling out of control. So far, 59,753 employees across industries, including banking, hospitality, food and beverage production, insurance, financial services, pharmaceutical, business services, manufacturing, animal care and government, responded to the survey. Some of the key findings included:
- 92% of employees surveyed thought their organization responded well to the crisis,
- 81% of employees thought they could effectively manage their work/personal demands,
- 93% said their team was adapting to how they worked in response to the crisis and 86% said they had the tools and resources they needed.
These positive scores aren’t surprising; based on previous research, it’s clear that in the aftermath of a crisis, there is a boost in employee goodwill toward leadership. However, we also know that this jump won’t last long. The increase in scores represents potential or energy within the organization that, with the appropriate strategy, can be tapped into to help the organization thrive. There are key measures leaders can take to maintain that goodwill and use it to ensure the organization’s overall health and resilience while supporting and caring for employees.
Provide Clear, Accurate Information
Fear is a normal reaction to uncertainty and crisis. To help deal with that fear, people look for information that helps them deal with the uncertainty, and if they don’t find it, that fear can turn into anxiety and dread fueled by assumptions that may be worse than reality.
For example, watching the grocery store shelves empty as people hoard supplies can lead to panic. During the Great Recession of 2008, 86% of those who were concerned about their personal financial situation (e.g., losing their jobs) were putting off purchases, vs. 6% of those who were confident in their financial situation. You can help your employees deal with the uncertainty by providing effective, clear communications. If true, let them know that your business is sound, and jobs are not at risk. If not, tell them the extent of your challenges and plans for coping. Let employees know about internal resources available for any issues they may be facing.
Improve Employee Confidence
OrgVitality’s research conducted during the 2008 recession demonstrated that employee levels of confidence are a good indicator of whether a business will survive a crisis. In our current survey, we found that 87% of employees were confident in their respective organization’s future despite the uncertainty. Most employee confidence is driven by senior leadership; 93% of respondents felt that senior leaders had responded quickly to the crisis, and almost as many (91%) were certain that leadership was prioritizing the health and safety of employees and their families.
Employee confidence has four components: The organization’s internal functioning; products and services; employee’s job security/career path within the organization; and skillsets that lead to career security. To achieve the highest employee confidence, organizations would want strong scores in each of these areas.
Involve Employees to Solve Challenges
Simply put, people feel better when they have as much control as possible over their circumstances. Get employees involved in problem-solving the challenges the organization faces and then implementing the solutions. By giving them some measure of control, you’ll find that their attitudes towards the organization will improve (or stay at the positive levels found immediately after the crisis hit) and maintaining their involvement will help maintain those scores.
Whether or not organizations can hold onto these positive gains depends on the skill of the leadership team, the efforts by leadership to continue the increases in communications caused by the crisis, the care that they have shown toward their employees and the openness by which they are addressing employee concerns. These positive traits, of course, are not in every leader or every organization, but those that do demonstrate them and continue to operate in that fashion may just come out ahead as we move beyond this current crisis.
There’s an old saying – attributed to Mark Twain, although the origins are murky – that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Leadership would do well to heed this saying, learn from the past and use these lessons to drive future improvements.
About the Author
Jeffrey Saltzman is CEO of OrgVitality.