Five strategies for reducing the fear factor for employees
Once employers understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on their people, they can act.
We recommend five strategies that can reduce the fear factor for employees.
1. Initiate transformative conversations
In a Harvard Business Review article, Paul J. Zack, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University, says: “Uncertainty about the company’s direction leads to chronic stress, which inhibits the release of oxytocin and undermines teamwork. Openness is the antidote.”12 Organizations will want to develop a robust conversation plan that includes two-way listening and a response that enhances trust, reduces the threats and vulnerabilities employees are feeling and improves social connection. Some companies have launched programs, but as they tail off employees are left feeling uncertain.
People experience change both rationally and emotionally. People experiencing change rationally follow a straight line from understanding to ownership and trust to commitment and behavior. However, emotions tend to play a much larger role in people’s behavior and decision-making. As a result, the change process is much more likely to follow a wavy line that moves from shock to false confidence to feelings of incompetence to letting go to testing to rationalizing.
Because emotions play such a big role in how people feel and act during times of high stress, anxiety and uncertainty, the rules of behavioral economics can guide organizations in which levers to pull when they communicate with their people to engage and inspire them to take actions to improve their overall well-being, success and productivity. A strong, effective and well-planned communication strategy (whether it’s about return to a physical workspace, interim workplace changes or longer-term workforce reimagination) can make or break people’s journey through change.
2. Build resilience skills
The companies that have best weathered the pandemic crisis have demonstrated resilience by pivoting from a business-first to a people-first perspective. As organizations re-engage their operations and employees return to greater states of productivity and performance, organizations need to continue to build resilience within their operations as well as among their employees. The latter involves supporting the ongoing needs of the employee population, particularly in the areas of health and wellbeing.
Resilience is largely a social phenomenon. People can either have a calming, regenerative effect on others through resilience and positive coping, or they can have the undesired impact of adding to others’ stress and worry through their own fear-driven words and actions. In the months ahead, organizations and employees alike will have opportunities to build the habit of resilience, to get better at more instinctively and automatically making choices that lift themselves out of despair and into the space of agency and freedom.
Organizations can help their employees to build resilience skills, in part by fostering a resilience mindset that focuses on helping employees recognize when they are in a state of non-resilience, and giving them the tools to regain their composure and return to a more resourceful state, enabling them to grow amid challenge, taking courageous action in the face of fear and supporting resilience in others.