There is a saying: “happy employees equal happy customers equal optimized outcomes.” And yes, even during a crisis situation people can, and should, find happiness. During this especially challenging time, employee safety and wellbeing should be table stakes. Understandably, people are feeling anxious and uncertain about the future. Company leaders need to demonstrate understanding and empathy in a way that is genuine.
If employees feel that their company and its leaders care about their wellbeing at work and at home, they will be more likely to trust the decisions the company makes. Trust and purpose go hand-in-hand. If a company has earned the trust of its employees, it is more likely to earn the trust of its customers and more likely to optimize performance.
Safety and wellbeing extend beyond the physical to include mental and emotional. In a time of crisis, this means paying close attention to personal dynamics and identifying and addressing any biases that may arise. In this era of inclusion and diversity, biases still exist. In times of stress unconscious bias and its more sinister cousin, discrimination, may bubble to the surface in ways companies may not expect. They need to push past this part of human nature. Diversity and inclusion of thought and experience is critical to succeeding in today’s age — before, during and after a crisis. Purpose is activated by a sense of belonging. Employees that feel a sense of belonging in their workplace, particularly in times of crisis, are more likely to be engaged and productive.
Safety also includes maintaining confidentiality. Safeguarding employee confidentiality, including any health-related matters, needs to remain a top priority. Confidentiality signals trust. If the company breaches an employee’s privacy or confidentiality, even if it thinks it is doing it for the greater good, the company will lose the trust of its workforce. This in turn will have broader impacts on employee engagement and productivity — not to mention regulatory impact, depending on jurisdiction. A company willing to sacrifice the trust of its workforce, for whatever reason, has lost sight of its purpose.
While most of a company’s attention should rightly be focused on the health and wellbeing of its workforce, there are additional opportunities that companies aligned to their purpose can pursue. Travel bans, collective- and self-quarantines and the movement to an exclusively work-from-home model are creating challenges around business continuity and productivity. However, it is also spawning new opportunities for alternate, inclusive and flexible ways of working.
New collaboration arrangements are surfacing as companies ramp up remote working models and implement split teaming. Jobs may be disappearing in one part of the company, but others may be emerging that affected employees can shift to. Reimagining workforce arrangements to address employee wellbeing while maintaining business continuity will generate opportunities to innovate, too. Meanwhile, companies could unlock the potential for new connections within the organization and across its ecosystem as everyone pulls together to keep the workforce safe and business operating.
Purpose is the “North Star” that guides a company through good times, but especially through bad times – remember: culture matters most during murky waters. Companies that have the right defined purpose and are clear on the workforce values that align with it can actively plan to protect their people during this challenging moment in time. These companies will earn the trust of their employees, who will be more engaged and motivated to deliver exceptional customer experiences, and better positioned to contribute to society more broadly. These companies are already generating long-term value that will pay dividends long after the COVID-19 crisis has passed.