With their workplaces suddenly shut down or in flux during the coronavirus pandemic, many people are feeling disconnected, anxious and overwhelmed. For business leaders, maintaining employee morale through this unprecedented disruption is critical.
When communicating in times of uncertainty, “trust is the most important factor,” says Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work and a global authority on workplace culture. He says leaders earn that essential trust by making personal connections and supporting employees’ total well-being.
As part of his recent webcast for Chase Chats, Bush offered seven communication tips for leading employees through uncertainty.
1. Talk to the whole person.
This crisis has upended daily life for everyone—not only your laid-off or furloughed employees but also those who continue working remotely. Looking after kids, caring for elderly parents, supporting an out-of-work partner and other demands are stealing people’s focus. When communicating with your employees, take time to recognize and empathize with the stress they may be feeling. If possible, offer access to resources such as mental health counseling, financial assistance and respite care.
2. Lead with your purpose and values.
Even though financial concerns and operational health demand your attention right now, employees also need reassurance that you—and they—are still connected to higher objectives. Remind them why you founded or joined the company. Sharing your idealistic roots can help boost employee confidence and convey that you’re “learning how to be resilient together,” says Bush.
3. Ask for help.
Your employees are willing to pitch in—and they will feel more connected, respected and valued—when you give them challenges to solve. Encourage people to share bold and unconventional ideas for reconnecting with the company’s most valuable or loyal customers. If possible, involve furloughed employees as a sign that you are eager to bring them back.
4. Talk about your hopes.
People need reasons to believe that better days are ahead. You can be optimistic about the future of your business without brushing aside the present hardships that employees are experiencing. Share your target dates for key recovery actions such as reopening business locations, rehiring employees and relaunching business initiatives.
5. Connect 1:1, not just 1:many.
Employees need your focused attention to feel supported and safe during challenging times. Beyond group videoconferences, carve out time for one-on-one conversations. Even if you can spend just a few minutes a week with each employee, the impact on morale will be invaluable.
6. Make it safe to say, “I’m not OK.”
You can make it safe for employees to say, “I’m not OK”—without prying or putting them on the spot—by sharing your own experiences of stress or anxiety. Then, ask what’s going on in their lives, beyond a vague “How are you doing?” Specific questions like “Are your parents OK?” or “How do your kids feel about what’s going on?” allow people to open up about areas in which they may need help.
7. Practice customized flexibility.
The pandemic is affecting each of your employees in unexpected and unique ways. Some could be scrambling to arrange child care. Some may need extra time or support to get comfortable using unfamiliar technology at home. Others might be nervous about returning to the store or office too soon. Supporting your employees with options to get their work done will help strengthen trust.
Long after the pandemic subsides, employees will remember how you interacted with them under difficult conditions. “Take care of the person first,” says Bush. “That person will feel it, and then they’ll certainly take care of your business.”
Michael C. Bush is CEO of Great Place to Work, the global research and analytics ﬁrm that produces the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, the World’s Best Workplaces list, the 100 Best Workplaces for Women list, the Best Workplaces for Diversity list, and dozens of other distinguished workplace rankings around the world. Michael joined Great Place to Work as CEO in 2015, bringing 30 years of experience leading and growing organizations. Michael also serves on the board for Workday, a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance, HR, and planning. He is a former member of President Obama’s White House Business Council and a founding board member of the private equity seed-fund, Fund Good Jobs, which invests in small inner-city businesses. Michael is compensated by Chase.