If 2020 taught us anything, it taught us that the only constant is change. No one can be completely prepared for what the future holds, and even if we weather one crisis, there may be another waiting in the wings.
Those who can best thrive in times of uncertainty are those who develop resiliency. But in the midst of shutdowns, unrest, and political upheaval, “develop resiliency” feels like just one more thing to add to an already-full to do list, especially for women. It’s understandable why women are leaving the workforce in record numbers right now. Between family demands and the overwhelming input of external circumstances, there’s just no room for work.
Is there anything employers can do to help their employees gain some resiliency… and to hold on to their valuable human capital?
Yes, says Adeola Emdin, MBA, Chief Operations Officer at Primus Business Management, which offers HR and management consulting services to small businesses and non-profit organizations. Emdin is also the author of an upcoming book on human resources, scheduled for release in summer 2021.
Emdin says she’s seen a shift in focus from clients over the last year. In the past, questions were specific and individualized—how to comply with a new law or address an employee situation, for instance. But now, even though questions are more general, they’re also much more human.
“They are ‘How do we handle this? What does this mean? Are there implications to doing this?’ They’re trying to figure out what they need to do as an organization,” Emdin says. “Companies are trying to restructure, help their employees, and keep their operations functioning.”
Emdin suggests there are several things companies can do to help their employees survive and even create more resiliency for the future.
1. Eliminate decisions. Generally speaking, choice is a good thing. But in the midst of uncertainty and upheaval, even “easy” decisions can tax overburdened brains. Emdin suggests making it as easy as possible for employees to do their jobs.
“Simplify as much as possible, and try to mimic what a regular day would look and feel like,” she says. “That level of consistency can allow employees to thrive and not feel like, ‘this is another thing that I have to figure out.’”
Some of that consistency can be accomplished through technology. Make sure employees have the bandwidth and equipment they need and make connecting to the office and colleagues as streamlined as possible.
But don’t stop with technology. Consider what workers normally do in their offices, especially if they’re working from home. Would they have access to a supply closet? Can you send a package of information or supplies? With offices empty, can you allow employees to take furniture home so that they can work comfortably and ergonomically? By thinking through likely roadblocks and making decisions about them, you’re eliminating the need for your employees to figure out operations-related problems. This frees up their brain power to work on their tasks.
“The more you can help your employees feel like they aren’t working from their beds, the easier it is to say, ‘Oh, this is my work situation,’” Emdin says. “You’ll help it feel more like the routine they're used to, instead of the chaos that is happening.”
2. Allow employees to create boundaries. With work life and home life often in the same locations, lines have blurred, and it’s easier than ever for employees to find themselves always working. Emdin encourages leadership to find ways to allow employees to shut off work every day.
“If an employee sends an e-mail at 6:00 PM, don’t reply back and say, ‘here’s the next thing that you should work on,’” she says. “Save that e-mail. It can go the next morning. That way the employee doesn’t feel like they have to respond that night.”
It’s not enough to just tell employees to take care of themselves, she says. “Organizations need to help foster the separation between work and home.”
3. Provide structure without being rigid. Structure is important to help people manage the many demands on their time, but wherever possible, leadership should be flexible with time and deliverables.
Emdin recommends talking through each employee’s unique situation to decide what objectives are achievable in that employee’s circumstances. “If an employee is sick, they have an ailing parent, they have kids in the background, have that conversation,” she says. “Ask, ‘what are the objectives we can agree on? What do you think you’re capable of doing given the circumstances right now?’”
She cautions against communicating a punitive, competitive, or judgmental message in those conversations.
“This is a completely new situation,” she says. “Objectives, expectations…all those have to be reset. And given the nature of what’s happening, it all has to be done on an individual basis. Resources are different, your situation is different, your workspace is different, your ability to interact with clients or your team—all of that is completely different. This is the new normal. Figure out what time, resources, or additional support people need.”
She says when these open conversations take place and objectives are clear, it puts everyone in a better position. “You’re evaluating someone based on what you agreed on, versus what someone else is doing.”
4. Be transparent. Emdin says it’s important for leadership to acknowledge current events and the upheaval they create—and to say out loud that even people in the C-suite don’t have all the answers.
“A lot of fear we've seen from employees is simply wanting to know where they stand,” she says. “A lot of the questions are based on external factors—all these different situations that occurred over the last year that have made employees uneasy and cause organizations to try to quickly process a situation that no one ever predicted.
“Have a conversation with employees and say, ‘Okay, this is where we are, and we're trying to figure it out,’” she says. She encourages companies to change objectives or goals when necessary and communicate those changes—and the reasons for them—with employees.
“That constant communication and building relationships with employees helps them feel empowered. And empowered employees have a better shot at being successful employees,” she says.
5. Be visible. Between rapidly evolving public health circumstances and political and social upheaval, employees can feel understandably unmoored. Emdin suggests this gives company leadership an opportunity to provide an anchor and stability while also communicating a cohesive company message.
“It’s a difficult time for employers, because as individual people, they're still trying to figure out what's going on as well,” she acknowledges. But leadership can communicate that “this is what as an organization, collectively, we're going to work on.”
Change is still on the horizon, and organizations are going to feel the effects of 2020 for some time. But with the right approach, they can use this “new normal” to create a culture of resiliency and adaptation that will thrive no matter what’s next.
For more information about Adeola Emdin and Primus Business Management, visit www.primusco.com or follow her on LinkedIn.
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