The relationship between employers and employees, has been in the spotlight these past months. Whether on a collective or individual level, there has naturally been pressure put on these relationships as the business environment and our ways of working have rapidly adapted in response to COVID-19.
Numerous studies have shown that fostering positive employee relations leads to beneficial business outcomes and contributes to employees’ wellbeing. Companies that continue to manage employee relations well, despite external pressures, will be best placed to weather the storm of COVID-19 and take advantage of the inevitable opportunities that will arise when the world returns to some form of ‘business as usual’.
With that in mind, here are 5 tips for managing employee relations during COVID-19:
Stay true to your values
An organisation’s values define its culture, beliefs and the way it operates. Although for many companies there’ll be more pressure on the bottom line than ever before, it’s also more important than ever to stay true to your values.
More often than not, this will mean taking a human-centric view and not focusing purely on the numbers. The corporate cliché of ‘our people are our greatest asset’ is pronounced by many but practiced by few – now it will be truly tested. Did you communicate openly with your employees, celebrate successes, prioritise health and wellbeing, and embrace your responsibilities? These are all questions that will be asked of your organisation over the coming months.
It’s events like COVID-19, and how people and businesses reacted at the time, that will be remembered for years to come. Your stakeholders, both internally and externally, will remember who stuck by them when they needed help. Use this as an opportunity to reinforce your brand and reputation in the market. By standing by your stakeholders, you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
Keep communication open
Be upfront with your employees about the challenges your organisation is facing, how they have and could impact staff, and how you’re adapting to new ways of working. Don’t sugarcoat anything and be transparent – open communication is key to developing trust.
To ensure clarity and consistency, you may want to limit updates so that they come from one person (i.e. your organisation’s MD). This will also help to lessen anxiety as staff can read updates at their leisure rather than receiving communications from all corners of the business.
Your communications should also be two-way. Encourage dialogue with staff on a collective and individual level. If you have a regular employee engagement survey – keep it running. This will allow employees to give feedback and make them feel like their voices are heard. It could also be a great opportunity to collect ideas on how to address some of the challenges your organisation may be facing.
Communicating openly and often will ensure that employees feel engaged at a time when many fear being left out of the loop.
It can sometimes seem like we’re bombarded with a constant stream of negative news, so it’s now more important than ever to celebrate success and focus on recognition.
Finding innovative ways to address client needs, adapting to a particular challenge or examples of productive collaboration are all things that can be celebrated and recognised in your organisation as much as a new business win.
Reach out to staff and ask them to send through their experiences. Something as simple as giving a shout-out in your next MD comms can have a real impact on employee morale – public recognition has been found to be more memorable to staff than monetary rewards. Highlighting the broader business impact of the achievement can also serve as an educational opportunity for staff and inspire new ideas and innovation.
Furthermore, recognition can help your employees feel valued, which is crucial for both staff engagement and motivating discretionary effort.
Double down on health and wellbeing
It’s too early to measure the impact that remote working and social distancing has had on employee health and wellbeing but it would be naïve to assume its been insignificant. Many people are feeling a heightened sense of stress and anxiety towards their employment, health, finances and social connections. It’s therefore critical that organisations step-up to support the health and wellbeing of their employees.
Encourage managers to create regular opportunities to check-in with their teams, free from distractions, to really listen about their day-to-day and any concerns they have. Aside from providing emotional support, you can also provide practical tips on working from home, with a focus on routine and self-care. And as our work and home lives blend, you should also encourage a culture of people bringing their ‘authentic selves’ to work. Making people feel comfortable about balancing their home and work priorities will remove pressure and help them to open up about the challenges they face.
To make sure your staff feel supported, it’s also important to promote any wellbeing initiatives that are available to them and make sure they are easy to access. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), counselling, staff support networks or informal buddying systems are all common support tools that organisations can utilise. You could also develop more creative initiatives to support mental health such as hosting wellness webinars, appointing mental health champions, and providing free meditation sessions for staff.
Embrace your responsibility to employees
A harsh and often distressing consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is that some organisations have had to let staff go to keep their businesses afloat. If the organisation you work for is in this unfortunate position, it doesn’t mean that you should wash your hands of responsibility as soon as employees walk out the door.
If you’ve stayed true to your values and kept your communications open, your employees will be better able to understand and accept the difficult decisions that have been made. Now the best thing you can do is set them up for success and give them the tools they need to find a new job in this tough market.
One effective and practical way to do this is to develop a career transition program. Whether developed in-house or by a 3rd party provider, career transition programs are both affordable and highly tailored for the circumstances of your organisation. A typical career transition program will cover skills assessments, job hunting strategies, CV and cover letter writing advice and interview tips. Many elements of these programs are already delivered online, so they won’t need to be heavily adapted for today’s environment.
Often thought of as a ‘nice to have’, career transition programs are now critical to demonstrate care for your people and their long-term prosperity. Make sure you do the right thing now and it won’t be forgotten down the track.
Hopefully you’ve found these tips useful. If your HR department is struggling to keep up with increased workloads related to employee relations, you may want to consider bringing on an experienced Employee Relations Advisor for support. At Hays we have a number of immediately available candidates for your consideration. If your business is having to restructure during this time, our Assessment & Development team are also able to give you private consultation on outplacement services that exiting employees can access to help them through their career transition.
About this author
Eliza Kirkby is Regional Director of Hays in New South Wales and has full day-to-day operational responsibility for several key Hays business units.
Eliza joined Hays in 2006 as a recruitment consultant. Her successes were quickly rewarded with promotions and today she leads a team of over 50 consultants, sits on the NSW board and is the account manager of several key National Accounts.
In addition, Eliza has extensive experience developing innovative project recruitment solutions for clients, including designing and implementing assessment centres for 400+ staff and leading assessment projects to support restructures and volume recruitment requirements.
Eliza holds a Bachelor of Economics and Honours in Psychology from the University of Sydney.
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