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Don’t neglect the workforce for the bottom line

/ 05:01 AM August 22, 2020

While employees try and manage work and home during these uncertain times, business leaders are also facing a moment of reckoning. For many of us, it is about rewiring the manner in which we have worked and managed teams. The onus lies on us on how we balance the needs of the business and wellness of our employee while navigating this extraordinary global challenge. Engagement is key. One way to manage the rising stress levels among employees is by increasing the channels of communication and engagements—not just for informing but receiving feedback to ascertain how employees are doing. Regular conversations with team members are valuable opportunities for managers to pick up on early signs of anxiety.

The results from a Gallup poll, conducted across two different weeks in March with the same study subjects, showed that more full-time employees agreed that their supervisors are keeping them informed about developments within the organization—from 47 percent to 54 percent. However, at present, still less than half of full-time employees strongly feel that their organizations care about their overall well-being. If left to fester, uncertainty can rapidly lead to attrition.

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Being flexible shows empathy. Even well before the pandemic, striking a better work-life balance for employees was a challenge. Now, more than 3.9 billion people or roughly half of the world’s population are living under some form of lockdown as part of government efforts to manage the effects of COVID-19. This drastic change has reshaped the realities of the workplace—compelling people to work under unusual circumstances which can have a impact on the physical and mental well-being of employees. The unpredictability of the pandemic, coupled with growing concerns of job loss, is adding to the strain and anxiety.

The Annual Trust Barometer by Edelman showed that employees’ trust in CEOs is at an all-time low. Only 31 percent of employees said their CEOs have done an outstanding job in meeting the demands of the pandemic. Greater empathy is needed to support employees as they navigate this period.

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A two-year Stanford study conducted before the pandemic showed that working from home resulted in a productivity boost that is equivalent to a full day’s work. Employee attrition also decreased by 50 percent among those who telecommuted. Employees who were working remotely also took fewer sick leave and lesser time off.

But telecommuting can take different forms for different people. Some have physical limitations while others have emotional engagements with family members that take a toll on their ability to operate efficiently as they would have within typical office hours. This requires employers to be flexible so their employees can work around their limitations and still deliver quality performance.

Observe changes in performance. Changes in employees’ personality or work may be signs of a person struggling to cope. Weekly wellness surveys with staff members to identify areas where existing support schemes can be strengthened are an easy means of gathering feedback and demonstrating care and concern for employees.

This year, we introduced Vida, a new, zero-cost, secure online wellness coaching program to connect employees with coaches, experts, and resources to help them achieve their individual wellness goals. The platform allows employees to access services to help them with meeting their exercise, diet, or even sleep goals.

A time to learn. One of the ways to alleviate the anxiety levels from the pandemic is to allow employees to use this time to gain new skills to overcome existing skills gaps within the organization. The online teaching platform Coursera saw a rise in new users signing up for personal development courses and courses on new skills like AI, data science, and blockchain. LinkedIn learning is also a good platform to consider.

Strength in diversity. With the marketplace being radically reshaped by the pandemic, leaders and their organizations will need to leverage enhanced problem-solving skills and vision to properly address the changes that come with COVID-19.

Companies that draw on their pool of diverse talent are in a better position to spot and seize market movements. However, it is during and after a crisis that progress on diversity and inclusion programs tend to be withheld. A pulse survey conducted by McKinsey & Company showed that almost a third (27 percent) of business leaders put on hold all or most of their D&I initiatives because of the pandemic, when this is the critical time to foster inclusion.

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Leading with empathy and humanity. In times like this, though employees look to the government for direction, they lean closer to their employers for direct counsel and comfort. We must do what we can to provide assurance and help ease the anxiety caused by the ongoing pandemic.

Leaders who manage to strike the right balance between short- and long-term strategies by investing comprehensively in the future, while selectively reducing costs to survive the recession, will greatly influence the trajectory of their companies and form the foundation of their brand reputation for years to come.

Now is the time to emphasize understanding and empathy—to lean into our shared humanity. What else do we have otherwise?

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Cameron McLean is senior vice president for international markets of PayPal.

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TAGS: business, Coronavirus, COVID-19, health, pandemic, telecommuting, work, work from home, Workforce
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