Coronavirus and COVID-19: A Time for Caring

By
Lin Grensing-Pophal
|
November 10, 2020

There’s plenty of speculation by management gurus and academics about the skills that great managers possess. But what do employees think? Google sought to find out and, in the process, discovered something somewhat shocking: technical prowess was not only not the most important, it was the least.

What Matters More: Caring

With concerns about the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus heating up around the world, companies are struggling to make decisions that are in the best interests of employees, customers—and society at large. It’s a time that caring may well be the most important attribute that managers can demonstrate.

  • Employees are concerned about their families and their well-being. Will their children be safe and protected while at school? If schools close, how will they care for their children while still meeting work obligations?
  • Employees are concerned about their income streams.
  • Employees are concerned about their own health.
  • Employees are concerned about the health of their extended family, friends and coworkers.

Unfortunately, despite their concerns, many employees don’t feel that their managers are concerned about them. And they’re at risk of leaving because of it. According to Limeade research:

One in three employees have left a job because they didn’t feel their employer cared about them as a person

  • One in four employees left a job because they weren’t treated with dignity by company leaders
  • One in five employees left a job because their employer didn’t support their well-being

Supervisors and managers are in a good position to turn this situation around by ensuring employees know they are cared for. During times of crisis, like we are facing now, that caring is even more important.  

Four Steps to Building a Climate of Caring

Supervisors and managers can play an important role in helping ensure that employees feel cared for and protected, especially during crisis situations. Here are four steps to follow to support a climate of caring:

1. Start With Self-Care

Supervisors and managers are employees too and have their own concerns about themselves, their families and employees. Other care starts with self-care. So, the first step toward being a caring manager who can meet the needs of employees is ensuring that you’re taking good care of yourself.

2. Talk

Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade, encourages organizations to show care for their employees. “Your employees should hear from you often, feel supported and cared for frequently,” he says. “The overarching message must be crystal clear: stay home if you are sick; know the travel policies; employees have a right to protect themselves and their teams from spreading illnesses.”

Employees will have a lot of questions during times of uncertainty. You may not always have the answers immediately, and that’s okay. Just let them know when you expect to have more information and keep them continually updated.

3. Listen

Communication needs to be two-way, of course. In addition to sharing information with employees regularly, managers need to provide opportunities for employees to ask questions, share their thoughts and ideas—and sometimes just to vent. If they’re working remotely, make sure employees know which channels you will be monitoring most closely—e.g. do you prefer emails, text messages? Consider setting up regular check-ins via phone or video conference to offer more personal connections as well.

4. Close the Loop

While supervisors and managers are taking steps to ensure employees understand that they, and the company, cares for them, it’s also important to ensure a consistent focus on company priorities. Work must still get done. Customer needs must still be met.

Keeping employees focused on goals and their role in helping to achieve those goals is also a good way to encourage engagement, says Russ Hill, a senior partner with Partners in Leadership.

“Without clear direction and meaningful alignment around company agendas, teams fall into patterns of low engagement,” says Hill. “Disengagement leads to apathy, and apathy hampers the ability to execute strategic objectives, deploy change and improvement initiatives, and successfully deliver on expected outcomes. As such, unifying and managing remote teams must begin with establishing a high-performance culture that fosters positive attitudes and proactive behaviors.”

Caring Communication

As you hear from employees about their concerns and questions, consider the resources you may have available to help them, Albrecht suggests. “For example, is there an ERP or hotline you can point employees to?”

When managing risk, says Brent Shroy, principal, consulting at Root Inc., leaders should remember to:

  • Be Authentic. “When times are a little scary, no reason to blanketly ignore that emotion, but don’t give it the spotlight either,” Shroy says. “Acknowledge and move on.”
  • Be Communicative. “Even if some communications are informational, don’t let a vacuum form in the company conversation, Shroy advises. “If you're not sharing the message, others will be filling it with buckets of wild ideas.”
  • Be Optimistic. “This is a risk that can be objectively dealt with, no matter how bad it gets,” Shroy says.
  • Be Proactive. “Stay on top of your plans. When new information comes out, adjust your plans, and do it again and again as needed.”
  • Be Decisive. “Once aspects of the situation become clear enough to make a decision, do it,” says Shroy. “Decisiveness will continually pare the playing field to remain manageable. “

Employees are looking to you to provide guidance and feedback. During times of crisis and uncertainty they need this guidance more than ever. “Now is the time your people need you the most,” says Albrecht. “Your communication and the actions you take must be swift, clear and supportive.”

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