How to engage anxious employees and forge a fresh culture amid COVID-19

New research from McKinsey can help communicators keep workers feeling hopeful, valued, united and motivated.

How to have a true company purpose

We are living through a period of profound upheaval.

As you might expect, the ongoing strain of the pandemic is weighing heavily on workers. It’s also taking a heavy toll on company cultures. According to HR Dive, “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, key issues in workplace culture, such as understood norms of behavior, are being impacted.”

As we all struggle to navigate new routines and virtual workdays, it’s imperative for communicators to formulate strategies that align with the reality of what employees are experiencing. That very well could mean scrapping your old content calendar and embracing an entirely new approach.

How messaging can keep morale afloat  

McKinsey offers four ideas to “help rattled workforces believe in the future.” Its guidance for companies enduring this shaky phase of the pandemic include:

1. Lay the groundwork: Be sensitive to employees’ needs.

Don’t assume workers are itching to get back to the office. Many are raring to return, but some in your ranks surely have valid, very serious concerns.

Before declaring a return date or updating protocols, McKinsey says to frequently, consistently survey employees to gauge their current attitudes and preferences. That data could swing your leadership’s decisions on office space and remote work policies moving forward.

Siemens, which has 140,000 employees in more than 125 locations, just announced a “permanent mobile working plan” that came on the heels of a global staff survey. A fully remote situation might not be your employees’ preference, but you won’t know unless you ask.

2. Honor the past: Address emotions directly.

Research into post-traumatic growth suggests that companies that move effectively to address trauma, grief, loss, uncertainty and anxiety can rebound more quickly and experience stronger success,” McKinsey writes.

Having a desire to press forward and not discuss the pain of the pandemic is understandable, but it’s crucial to allow employees to freely express emotions without fear of judgment or backlash. That might include grief, anger, loneliness, anxiety or whatever else people are experiencing. To begin the healing process, McKinsey advises:

  • Investing time in cultivating open, compassionate conversations about what has been lost in the pandemic.
  • Leading more intimate conversations with individuals and teams about the emotional impact of recent months (ideally, with top leaders participating).
  • Normalizing emotional concerns of employees at all levels.
  • Celebrating and reinforcing the values the company stands for, and how they were demonstrated in the company’s pandemic response.

However you moderate or facilitate these conversations, prioritize forums conducive to open dialogue. Provide spaces where workers feel free to vent and speak their minds.

3. Mark the transition: Recognize the power of ritual.

Many workers are struggling without the familiarity of a traditional workplace structure and routine. It’s incumbent upon employers to create new rituals and traditions to keep that sense of togetherness and unity. “New rituals, along with company values and a renewed sense of purpose, can serve as pillars of psychological safety and normality,” McKinsey writes, adding that “rituals will help mark the start of a new phase in the organization’s life.”

To do so, McKinsey suggests:

  • Making the focus of communication the well-being of workers, not work.
  • Setting a specific timeframe of events for the organization to pivot from “past” to “future.”
  • Providing a “welcome back” kit that includes all the things employees need to navigate the “new normal,” as well as available resources.

4. Look to the future: Embrace a new sense of purpose.

Reflection is crucial, but it’s also important to cast a compelling, uplifting vision of where the company is heading. Reaffirm what the company stands for, and take strides to connect employees’ job functions to the larger mission in meaningful ways. “At the personal level, reconnecting to purpose has been shown to be a critical factor in coping with crises and trauma,” McKinsey writes.

Rediscovering purpose can also do wonders for boosting engagement and productivity. McKinsey suggests:

  • Starting or renewing discussions on corporate purpose, based on discoveries from the crisis.
  • Demonstrating how this purpose feeds into strategic direction, and strengthening the connection between purpose and business actions.
  • Articulating the company’s new approach and helping employees understand what the future will look like.
  • Showcasing stories that highlight and embody your company’s purpose and values.

Imbuing employees with a powerful sense of collective purpose will increase their motivation and create stronger bonds between teams. Common objectives make people feel part of a larger team that needs their unique skillset to succeed.

That sense of togetherness might seem in short supply these days, but it’s absolutely crucial for companies to keep a spark of purposeful teamwork alive.

COMMENT

One Response to “How to engage anxious employees and forge a fresh culture amid COVID-19”

    Sayre Darling says:

    One additional suggestion is that not only does the content need to change, but so does the delivery. Of course we are all using more (if not exclusively) technology to communicate these days. But let’s not forget the more traditional, even “old fashioned” methods of communications that now convey a level of personal connection that aren’t achieved with Zoom calls. The personal connection you have with phone calls vs video calls; personal emails vs texts, cannot be ignored.

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