Are you a leader, employer, or manager? What kinds of challenges have been coming your way these days?
I believe most people prior to the pandemic may have been somewhat envious of those in leadership positions. Leaders were able to garner respect and effect change in the particular sector they worked in. However, my guess is that most people now feel differently and may even have some sympathy for those in the business of decision-making.
The past twenty months or so have been marked by fear, uncertainty, and the devastating health impacts of the global pandemic. Employers and leaders have been forced to make difficult, important, and, at times, heart-wrenching decisions for their workplaces.
The significant impact on the economy, and therefore on all of us, has resulted in a shift to online services, small business and service industry shutdowns, and a drastic reduction in our ability to travel. The long-term impacts remain to be seen. It has been reported that record numbers of employees are leaving their workplaces and several sectors are having difficulty recruiting workers.
We all make better decisions when we pause and take the time to carefully consider what is best.
So, what is happening? What can leaders and employers do to address workplace concerns? If I was coaching a leader through this time, here a couple suggestions for retaining staff and making your workplace a desirable place to be:
1. Start with deep listening
What do I mean by “deep”? In the simplest explanation, it means listening to understand rather than respond. An interaction with your employees enables you to discover something – it’s not for you to impart a message. This is not a common way for most leaders to approach communication. Often the direction is top-down, and this was necessary during the most uncertain parts of the pandemic. But now is the time to activate a deeper, more meaningful way to hear what your employees need.
For employers who are listening, there are some themes emerging. First, people want to feel safe in the workplace. There are many groups who have been ignored, passed up for promotion, experienced harassment or discrimination, or felt the toxic effects of workplace incivility and gossip. In workplaces where this type of culture has been allowed to flourish, employees probably aren’t excited to return after months of working from the relative safety of their own homes.
Conversely, there are also impacts of burnout in many of the sectors where employees were even more in demand and busier due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, we continue to see that level of burden within our healthcare system. Leaders in that sector, along with public officials, will certainly need to take concrete action to address the level of turnover that is currently happening.
One of the strongest messages that is emerging from our difficult times is the necessity for trust in our relationships, especially in the workplace.
2. Slow down
I understand that this seems counterintuitive. However, we all make better decisions when we pause and take the time to carefully consider what is best. On a personal level, this could vary depending on preference – some people may meditate, while others might take time to breathe through running or exercise. Some might like to spend time outdoors or immerse themselves in a creative endeavour.
One of the biggest lessons that we are learning collectively so far is that some of our previous systems and structures need to be re-examined – in some cases they likely need to change in significant ways. The “slowing down” of many aspects of society provided some insights and opportunities to reflect on this, and to hear from many people who weren’t being heard. Leaders can learn from what’s happened and move these insights into action.
3. Be genuine
One of the strongest messages that is emerging from our difficult times is the necessity for trust in our relationships, especially in the workplace. Leaders are the role models that we look to for guidance and direction in our workplaces. This can be achieved as part of the reciprocal nature of communication – employers can start with listening and then respond appropriately to the real concerns of their employees.
Given all of the ups and downs that we have been through over the past several months, I believe that employees have come to expect their leaders to be more “real.” They want to achieve more psychological safety and belonging for everyone in their workplaces.
Finally, I want to note that coaching is a collaborative, empowering process. Through questions and prompts, people can discover inner resourcefulness and understanding which leads to thinking and acting differently. While this has been a time of momentous change, upheaval, and yes, devastation, it is also a time of opportunity for change and to rebuild what wasn’t working. I want to thank and recognize those leaders and employers who are brave enough to step out and do this.