3 Workforce Challenges Employers Face During COVID
2020 presented us with numerous and challenging changes in the workplace. Prior to last year, the mention of a remote office or telecommuting was one of the areas most resisted by business leaders. It was talked about as important for attracting and retaining talent. I predict that it’s also going to be the one that will present us with the most challenges as we head into 2021. Businesses are facing new changes necessary to recover from events brought about by the pandemic.
While many organizations have successfully restructured their daily work protocols and plan to continue allowing employees to office from their homes, some groups are now calling workers back into the workplace, and this is generating the myriad of responses that I refer to as The 3 Rs.
Did you know there may be resentment harboring on several layers in your work force? Since COVID became the topic that has taken over the focus of our businesses and our lives, many co-workers who once worked side-by-side have been relegated to different realities. Consider workers who never had the option to work remotely – like our bankers, grocery store clerks, healthcare workers, essential service workers who help manage our telecommunications, and/or construction workers. These employees may have some resentment over those who had the luxury of working safe and sound from the comforts of their homes.
There may be some resentment of those who have worked in their homes for 10 months, feeling isolated and without contact or connection from their colleagues or managers.
And those who lost their positions or took pay cuts could feel animosity towards those who did not seem adversely affected during these times.
When the workplace re-opens for business and these “slighted” workers are put back together with those that were “allowed” to work remotely, these emotions (whether realized or not) may surface and cause challenges that team leaders were not expecting to deal with.
Regardless of what negatives have been reported to team leaders, many employees have adjusted, and dare I say, even relish working from their homes. Resistance may be a response that resides within the human who is considering or being asked to return to the office.
This resistance may manifest for a number of reasons:
- Inability to find pre-COVID levels of daycare
- Time saved from a twice a day commute realized
- Leisure of a more casual attire and personal hygiene standard
- The close personal feelings that were developed from being invited into co-workers homes via video conferencing: seeing their kids, dogs, spouses…their lives!
- Real concern that the health scare is not yet over and that an employer, no matter what parameters or precautions they have put in place, cannot protect them
Much like our ever-changing school systems, a hybrid schedule for “re-entry” will likely be adopted. I’ve spoken with several businesses who never dreamed of a full virtual workspace. They are embracing the thought of it for a myriad of reasons.
Regardless of whether an employer elects a return to the workspace or not, companies who are in touch with employees, consider their needs and act with empathy and a sense of humanity will be able to navigate through these “rough seas” easier than those who set the course, and assume it will be smooth sailing.
Every employer values that rare and much sought-after resilient employee. They appear to face most challenges and changes head-on and with a determined “can do” attitude. These tough and supple soldiers said nothing when their careers, training and professional development was up-ended and they were asked to accept furloughs, layoffs and/or pay cuts. They marched on when told they would need to set up a workplace within their personal space to work remotely for an untold period of time. They kept a stiff upper lip as they feared for their jobs and the company they were loyal to. They learned how to Zoom – for hours and hours a day while continuing to be interesting, engaged and interactive. They rearranged their already over-worked and probably chaotic personal lives so that they could serve their organizations with an unaffected work ethic. These resilient employees make their leader’s jobs easier and they strive to be a supporting cog in a successful team…regardless of what is needed from them. Resilient workers do not seek out attention for themselves but work for the “greater good.” They shouldn’t cause any problems when they are told to return to their cubicles, right?
Resilient employees have all the right stuff needed to succeed in times like these:
- Regulate their emotions and remain calm under adversity, change and stress
- Control their impulses
- Realize what they can, and can’t control
- Believe in themselves and their ability to overcome obstacles and challenges
- Are realistic and optimistic at the same time
- Have concern for and can relate to others
- Willing and able to take on new opportunities
- Just like their resentful and resistant counterparts, they are HUMAN
Much like spouses that never fight, there might be hard feelings and insecurities just under the surface. Their true thoughts might never have a voice unless the savvy leader asks. These so-thought resilient beings should be:
- Asked how they have been while redeveloping their work environments and habits throughout 2020
- Asked to reconsider their physical working circumstances again
- Offered an opportunity to safely share any deep-seated thoughts: “is this worth it?”, “not again”, and the “what-ifs” they may fear subliminally. They may require support and a little bit of hand-holding
To further illustrate this hidden problem, I’d like to share a recent example I worked with where a resilient worker resigned. This employee definitely had “it”. His well-drafted resignation letter made me ache. He was exactly what this organization needed to continue their growing, fast-paced climb to success and now he was gone. He was eloquent in his thanking of each of his team members and provided a thoughtful, detailed description on how they helped him and what their particular strengths were. He conveyed his agreement with the organization’s decision to remain virtual. Early in his multi-page letter, he clearly stated, “I am a person who thrives on human connection.”
Resilient – and HUMAN!
He spelled out how this lack of connection brought about by the virus has affected his efforts, motivation and performance but then went on to say, “I hope if the company does ever return to an office environment you will hang on to my contact information and reach out to me. I am so very impressed with the culture, energy, positivity and comradery of this organization.”
It will be a wise leader who intentionally takes equal amounts of time to discover what each of their team members are saying, feeling, and thinking. I urge all leaders to try and evaluate which R applies to each individual. I equally encourage the leaders themselves to reach deep and see how they are feeling.
It will take time for employees to readjust, again, to what is being asked of them. While we can not change the world around us, we can change how we respond and even more importantly, how we expect others to respond.
As far back as 2016, Harvard Business Review identified the ability to adapt as the most important skill for companies. It is more important than technical knowledge, communication skills or even customer-focused problem-solving. Little did they know what was to come.
Yes, 2021 may be the year that we are able to get back to a sense of normal. But after nearly twelve long months of hard work, reinventing and making the best of it, regardless of how you play it, getting back to normal is truly just more change for your employees.
We are ready to assist you with your unique human capital needs- Experts@FahrenheitAdvisors.com.
About the Author
Joan Hibdon builds and maintains strong relationships with Fahrenheit’s clients by connecting with all of the relevant human aspects of business. Her expertise includes coaching, consulting, and providing learning and development services focused on cultivating leadership and creating extraordinary employee experiences in public, private and nonprofit organizations. She is also adept at converting strategy into practical applications and guiding companies through change management initiatives to achieve organizational success.