Finding the positives in adversity

Elissa Dennis
5th April 2020
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The benefits employers can embrace now and beyond the coronavirus crisis

Former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, famously once said “a week is a long time in politics.” A week in lockdown could be described the same way. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two weeks since all non-essential workers were told to work at home if possible, schools were closed and trips outside were limited to buying food and daily exercise. Life has changed completely in a matter of days.

Businesses have been forced to adapt to the rapidly evolving situation as quickly as possible in order to survive. Whole business models have become obsolete overnight and certain industries like travel, retail and hospitality have ground to ahalt. No previous crisis has enveloped society quite so quickly with such far-reaching consequences.

While it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the challenges that lay ahead, there are positives emerging which are important to recognise, celebrate and hold on to, both now and in the future. How employers react could potentially live long in the memory and determine how well they can succeed once the crisis is over. The banking sector has spent more than a decade trying to regain public trust and overcome their reputation as ‘villains’ after the 2008 crash.

Those that act with empathy and compassion towards their employees and the wider community have a golden opportunity to adhere to higher morale standards, which support a fairer, more understanding approach. There has been a feeling that change is needed and now could be the time to seize the moment and make it happen.

Renewed connection to the wider community

The crisis has highlighted how significant a difference business can make to the people who live and work alongside them. From small, local businesses to global corporate giants, many have gone out of their way to offer their support to where it’s needed the most. This could be delivering food to the most vulnerable, supporting NHS staff or providing free content online. Thousands have come forward to do their bit and lift spirits, engendering a renewed community spirit.

Hopefully, once the current crisis is over those links forged between business and the community can be sustained and strengthen, giving real purpose and meaning to corporate social responsibility programmes.

Employees’ health comes first

While millions have been spent on employee health and wellbeing initiatives in the last few years, staff have continued to feel the pressure. The latest report from Deloitte revealed that the cost of mental ill-health for UK employers continues to rise, up 16% to £45 billion in 2019[1]. Employees feel as if they need to be “always-on”, unable to take time of when they’re not well and shouldn’t be at work.

The current situation shows just how important health is and has pushed it forward to centre stage. It is the undisputed number one priority for all. It has also highlighted the inequalities that exist around sickness absence pay. The government have stepped forward to help level the playing field for the moment, but it has highlighted to employers just how vital it is to look after their staff. Without healthy employees, who are physically and mentally able to work to their full potential, a business cannot flourish.

Going forward, there is a chance for employers to review their health and wellbeing initiatives and find the most suitable solution that provides the best protection for their workforce.

An agile approach to performance management

At the beginning of the year each company would have set their own objectives based on their unique circumstances. Many organisations too would have filtered these through to their workforce and been incorporated into annual employee objectives. According to our own research, 36% of employees say they review their objectives just once a year.

The current situation has rendered much of what was set just a few weeks ago irrelevant or redundant. With employees now forced to come terms very rapidly with a new, remote working experience, it’s more important than ever that they have relevant, achievable objective to give them clarity and focus. The business that can communicate and establish modified goals the quickest, will be the ones best placed to work effectively through this lockdown period.

This crisis has put into sharp focus the need for organisations to take a more agile approach to their performance management. A framework that allows objectives to be reviewed on regular basis is required so these can be adapted quickly if the need arises. There needs to be regular, meaningful conversations between line managers and their reports to highlight priorities and provide an early warning sign if things are going off track.

The power of a clearly communicated goal

The country has one clear goal: to defeat coronavirus to save as many lives as possible. There is no ambiguity, everyone knows this is the priority. Amazing feats have been achieved in a short space of time to do this. New, temporary hospitals will soon be operational in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Engineering firms such as Dyson and McLaren have refocused their operations in days to make vital medical equipment.

The crisis has focused minds and shown what can be achieved if everyone is pulling together. This focus and dedication will be needed long after the peak of the crisis has passed, to help the country and businesses to recover as quickly as possible.

Employers should take note of the drive and spirit that has been created and think about how they can take this forward within their organisation. Those that best communicate their business goals and ensure their employees know what part they play in achieving these will be in prime position for a rapid recovery.

This is undoubtedly the toughest challenge businesses have faced in decades. While there is no clear endpoint at this stage, there is certainty that a solution will be found. The businesses that embrace a positive approach and learn from their experiences will be the ones that emerge the strongest.