Thursday's tradition of clapping for NHS and other key workers shows how necessary and valued staff morale is, particularly during a crisis.
From a “user” perspective, we love our NHS and want to show our appreciation and respect for what they are doing, for our loved ones and the nation. In turn, NHS workers say they appreciate being appreciated, and Thursday delivers a much needed boost.
The challenges that NHS workers face are well covered in the media. We are all eternally grateful that front line staff are driven by a sense of vocation. And it is this sense of a higher calling that maintains their confidence, enthusiasm and discipline to keep delivering work, when times are tough.
Outside of public services, few employees feel “called” to work for their employer. The employment market is wide-open to choose which employer to work for. And employers are starting to feel uneasy about competition for the best employees once life returns to some sense of normality.
I was encouraged to read in a recent survey of 264, HR professionals, that 57% felt levels of engagement were “good” at the moment. A third say levels are higher than before lockdown. I’ve no doubt this is due to the diligence and hard work of many line managers. Recovery will be a long journey and dips in morale are to be anticipated along the way. What can employers learn from this period to use in the months ahead?
Read and respond to the mood of your people to keep up confidence
Trust can build or break confidence. It’s hard for an employee to believe their boss genuinely has their back if they do not attend to practical concerns. Obviously, the overriding concern for frontline staff still in the workplace is their personal safety.
Many employers have responded with appropriate measures to protect, sanitise and maintain social distance. But the need to travel into work on public transport is causing genuine anxiety. Unsurprisingly, demand for bikes, through the cycle to work scheme, has rocketed. Yet few employers have increased shower and changing facilities. Doing so would not only benefit staff now but encourage ongoing use after lockdown measures are lifted.
This pandemic has redefined the front line boundary to include customer service staff. These people might be hidden from public view, but they are the first port of call for your customers. It is critical, they project confidence in your organisation’s ability to look after its customers.
That can be hard to maintain working at home away from the group buzz of a call centre. Call handlers are dealing in isolation with, a higher volume, of less routine queries, probably shared across fewer staff, from callers that may be more emotionally volatile. How staff are incentivised can leave them feeling supported or stressed. Review incentive criteria for this period. Instead of rewarding a target number of calls handled, consider incentivising certain behaviours demonstrated by staff that leave customers with a good feeling about the organisation.
Remind employees of the purpose and impact of their work
Human resilience to keep going through a crisis is incredible but not inexhaustible. Resentment, burnout and feeling underappreciated are the biggest killers of staff enthusiasm to do their best work.
Line managers may have invested a significant amount of time to build a shared sense of purpose among specific teams. Grown a shared understanding of each other’s personal circumstances and helped team members “contract” to support each other. But the reality for most businesses is, that a significant percentage of their workforce lacks purpose.
To survive most businesses, have furloughed staff and this is having unintended consequences. Those keeping the lights on are working around the clock on a skeleton staff. By week 8, many feel exhausted, resentful and envious of furloughed colleagues, “enjoying a break from work on full pay.”
Furloughed pastures are not greener. Staff question why they weren’t deemed business critical and fear for their future job security. Work hard in your communication with both groups to help them understand they serve the same purpose, to keep the business afloat. It cannot survive without both contributions. In time, furloughed staff will be called on to step up and carry the workload, while key workers step down to enjoy a well-earned rest. Which brings me onto my next point.
Be disciplined about work to avoid burn out
It’s one thing to feel the adrenalin rush in response to a crisis situation. It’s quite another to maintain high levels of commitment on a long and bumpy road to recovery. The Mental Health Foundation and LinkedIn, surveyed 1000, HR professionals, in medium to large companies, and found nearly 60% of HR managers fear losing staff to sick leave, due to the intensity staff are working at now. Homeworking has caused a rise in employee burnout and e-presenteeism.
In the same survey, 86% of 2000 home workers said, e-presenteeism has increased. They feel they should be always on, always available. On average employees are working an extra 28 hours a month. That amounts to an extra day a week. A third feel anxious and experience disturbed sleep.
Clearly this is not a sustainable position. Use the results of this survey to talk explicitly and openly with your staff about the need to take breaks and switch off. And lead by example.
I’ve been encouraged to hear that employee engagement has risen in some companies during this period. But let’s not kid ourselves. We are not in normal times and the current pace of work for front line workers is not sustainable. Let’s take what we’ve learned from this extraordinary time about how to build and maintain staff morale on our journey to recovery.