When a company is in a state of uncertainty, it is estimated that employees lose as much as 2 additional hours per day in productivity. The anxiety associated with change or even the possibility of change puts people into a distracted state beyond the norm.
I think it’s safe to say that a global pandemic going into month number nine would qualify as a state of uncertainty. Even if you are with a company that foresees no immediate change in your workforce or employee offerings, we have all learned that there are no absolutes in 2020. And now it appears that 2021 may offer little in the way of answers. As a result, people are modifying behaviors and activities accordingly….including your employees. So what are those rascals up to?
- Looking For Their Next Job – The fear of a layoffs or business disruption is real. In times of uncertainty, you have two groups of employees who are actively considering the next move in their profession. The first group includes your poor performers and disengaged employees who are survivalists by nature. Usually smart enough to have an exit strategy looking for that next opportunity, they are prepared to hang around as long as things are “business as usual.” This is not that situation. And while it may not hurt to lose poor performers, the other group is problematic – these are your high-performing employees. Why would they be looking? The strongest swimmers are the first to jump overboard…it’s critical they have engaged managers who can keep them motivated, appreciated and secure. The ironic part of this “activity” is that it may be invisible – many of your top performers are those who, in most cases, are leading by example. When times are good, all is well, but should things be shaky….keep your ears and eyes open, don’t assume all is well because you don’t hear trouble coming.
- Cementing New Habits – New work habits, new personal hygiene habits and new lifestyle habits. Did you create a remote work option during the pandemic? Remember how that was going to be for a month, then we could get everyone back to the office? Yeah, that didn’t quite happen. The new work routine for many employees now entails sweatpants, ZOOM, and a lack of physical supervision. You may even make an unexpected discovery – the performance of your employees can take a drastic turn, either for the better OR for the worse. For some people, working from home is a God-send and offers a new lease on life. For others, the home office offers distractions and a lack of structure they so desperately need to function. As a manager, YOUR habits are changing as well – you can’t manage “by sight” or take advantage of the drop-by. It used to be a sign of an involved leader to walk the floor and be seen; if you try something similar with your virtual employees, it could appear to be snooping. The biggest challenge for many companies will be maintaining productivity and culture with an employee base that is no longer in the line of sight.
- Watching – The first test for companies was the response to COVID. Successfully navigating that crisis bought you a lot of goodwill with your employees. Done correctly, that goodwill could last for an extended amount of time and manifest itself in terms of retention and employee satisfaction. Now comes the second act; COVID-19 appears to be with us for the foreseeable future. Did your company commit to the new work environment for as long as it takes, or are you signaling your intent to get people “back to the office” sooner rather than later? People are legitimately scared to come back to an office without a convincing assurance of safety. Depending on the cable news channel of their choice, many are literally scared to leave the house for any reason, much less work. Remember when people are scared they make self-serving decisions that can be contrary to common sense. Data and statistics to assuage their fears will only make you appear conniving. If and when you call people back to a brick & mortar environment, the appeal has to be one that addresses the emotional uncertainty of your employees.
For Human Resources, we are faced with balancing what is best for the company with what is best for the employee. Stress on the bottom line of the company can result in the C-suite de-emphasizing the human aspect in order to keep the company healthy. HR will be asked to continue to represent the interests of the employees and to stand strong when asked to make decisions on “what we can do (legally)” and “what we should do (morally).
This is another HR leadership moment, folks – don’t screw it up.
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