When it comes to employee surveys “now is not the right time” is a phrase we’ve heard a few times recently. Everyone’s busy right, dealing with the crisis?
Well, a lot has been written about the impact Covid-19 is having on mental health and wellbeing in general (so I’ll not repeat it here), but the most forward thinking employers are making the effort to find out how all of their busy, under pressure, isolated, stressed people are feeling.
Our free NHS pulse surveys are revealing two key factors that are making the difference to levels of engagement – communication and leadership.
a) Where businesses do this well they are providing lots of regular information and updates about what they’re doing to adapt to the crisis and how they are supporting people. The best examples we’ve seen are where the Chief Exec is recording weekly videos to supplement daily email briefings. After all, when people are busy fighting they have less time to spend checking their emails.
b) What’s being communicated needs to be consistent. Where employees feel they are being told something different to other teams/departments they start to feel hoodwinked and they stop trusting the information, or wonder what it is they are not being told.
c) Similarly, where employees feel their questions are being evaded they start to feel they are not being told the whole story and they start to fill in the blanks for themselves.
d) Communication is a two-way street. Whilst lots of top-down communication is important, providing employees with the opportunity to ask questions and express their feelings is equally important. Businesses who choose not to listen or invite questions and feedback are actually communicating that they don’t care. It takes bravery to invite questions (and potentially criticism) which is why point c) is important. It might also be why those same organisations also feel ‘now is not the right time’. Just saying….
e) Communication, by definition, also needs to be open and honest. Many organisations fall into the trap of trying to shape the message. They can also feel it is a sign of weakness to say “we don’t know”. Employees aren’t daft, they know bullshit when they see it so, if the answer to a question is “we don’t know”, then say so – people will actually appreciate the honesty and will be more likely to trust what you do say, rather than focussing on what they think you are hiding.
Communication is of course a vital leadership lesson, but the best leaders at the moment are also doing a couple of other simple things.
a) They are taking the time to check in with their people more regularly. We’ve banged on about the importance of one-to-ones many times, but where people are physically isolated, or certainly feel emotionally isolated, there is more need than ever for managers to take time out to give people a call. Of course, doing this is a great way to do the communication stuff.
b) They are demonstrating real empathy and support. Again, these are core leadership behaviours, but where people are feeling isolated and uncertain it is even more important. Taking time out to check in with people is the start point, but the conversation needs to be around how people are feeling rather than the todo list.