Fatigue. That seems to be the word of the moment. Everywhere we are hearing stories of deteriorating mental health due to isolation and uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the practice of flexible leadership and workforce adjustment. Right when things seem to be returning to "normal", they revert to stagnation. All of this weighing on employees, managers, executives and (especially) Human Resource professionals. Per usual, HR is called upon to play middle (wo)man in connection with the news of the day and how it effects organizational strategy. Each day a new challenge. Each processes implemented half way and then adjusted.... rinse and repeat.
As the sun peeks over the mountain and the bunker doors open are we actually going to get back to more predictable function? Time will tell but ever-evolving change seems now to be an expectation more than a forward-thinking strategy. Assuming we are bound for better consistency, what can be learned from our three years of adaptation?
Humanity has been embraced in the workplace since the onset of the pandemic. Simply put, we all hit a point of fatigue at one point or another. Where once instruction would be to adapt, we've all thrown up our virtual hands without answers while working in silos. It turns out our forced acceptance of emotional intelligence may have taught us all to be a bit more logical in our expectations (and the asides that temper them).
So here we are. New badges being printed, rotating desk schedules published and the security team back on site. It's time to get back to work! We know the new normal will not be business as usual and the great return to human interaction will pose a new set of challenges.
All of us will need a bit of time to adapt. Mental health challenges will persist, management directives will have to be flexible and compassion from leadership is an expectation. So, what can HR do to position resources that may have been lost in the COVID shuffle? Instead of a return to the "same old, same old", I'd like to propose a few ideas that might help us learn from the past and endure for the long haul.
Ending an employment cycle comes with it's fair share of challenges. Companies are focused on growth so terminations and voluntary leave seldom garner a ton of attention. That said, knowing why employees leave or dismissing them with grace can mean a lot to a company's hiring and retention strategies.
Here's the first of a few potential enlightened strategies: Offboarding
We put tremendous focus on hiring and onboarding but do little to nothing for our company Alumni. Many departing employees leave due to poor relationships with their manager. Said relationship is often an offset of a manager keeping direct reports in silos. During the exit interview process, HR plays a critical role in understanding where toxic leadership exists. With the collection of feedback comes the responsibility to action plan. The Human Resource function is key to turning voluntary leave into a data set for retention improvement.
Terminations are a more difficult process. Employees tend to leave companies after being terminated with an unkind feeling toward their employer. What if we could make that process a little more graceful? By simply giving departed employees a trusted referral to a hiring agency you can turn an unfortunate fit into a course correction. This is a win/win for individuals and companies. Would you rather your employees struggle to perform in silence or help them rediscover their professional purpose?
Employee surveys can be tricky. Acquiring candid feedback through surveys may fail to produce the desired result. Those taking the survey may be hesitant if the survey comes from HR (even if deemed confidential). Sharing feedback with managers can create a defensiveness that sends them back to their team to find out "who said boo" about them. Using surveys simply for the sake of company praise may miss an opportunity to find gaps in organizational performance.
Too often we see disgruntled employees taking to social media or chat rooms to slander their employer. This action might be taken as a last resort when employees don't feel heard. Employees tend to feel ignored when they provide feedback that is held against them or goes without action.
Here is another opportunity for HR to create a real time feedback ecosystem in which employees can submit an idea (or complaint) confidentially and have it addressed without judgement. To collect information, acknowledge the input and take action would drastically effect employee morale and improve retention.
You may be familiar with The Office episode when Dwight deploys an accountability booster to help "fix mistakes" in the office. The premise absurd... or is it?
The past three years have been a time of employee empowerment across organizations. Individuals are celebrating their civil freedoms and their individuality across the collective. It is important, however, to differentiate empowerment from entitlement.
Many people have left companies to participate in the gig economy or to start their own business. What happens if the sprint to greener pastures turns out to be a miscalculated stumble?
In order for companies to re-establish a healthy market position, individuals may have to take on opportunities for which they are over-qualified. People may have to start at the bottom. Teamwork, collaboration and selflessness will be essential to helping the economy rebound. We are all going to have to roll up our sleeves and dive in together to support the company mission.
Your ideas will be respected, your performance will be aided and we will all win together.
Our lives have been obscured since early 2020. No one could have imagined the immense responsibility companies would have to shoulder. Every individual has experienced mental health challenges while sheltering in place. As usual, Human Resources took it all on with grace and professionalism. Let's use the forced change management of the past few years to strengthen our strategic relevance. Let's keep moving forward!
The Time Is Now!