What Employees Need to Hear From Leaders in Times of Crisis
In uncertain times, employees need to hear frequently from organizational and team leaders to stay informed, feel heard, and keep focused.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, our professional (and personal) futures feel more uncertain by the hour. Businesses are experiencing unimaginable disruptions, to the point where some are worried about their very survival. Organizations that serve downstream supply chains are no exception. None of us is immune to the current state of our world, our towns, our companies, and our teams — and front-line workers, most at risk in a number of ways, may be even more aware of the uncertainty than their leaders when times get tough.
It’s critical for business and HR leaders to double down now on the few things that can help employees stay informed and updated, feel like they’re being seen and heard, and keep focused and on track. The two sources of certainty that mean the most to employees are the organization’s top leader and their direct team leaders. How can these leaders provide what employees need right now?
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Staying Informed and Updated
Organizational leaders should communicate candidly and frequently (at least daily) about the current state of the business. In difficult times, employees need to know the company’s actual status as soon as is reasonably possible. If you’re not giving your employees regular updates, they’ll make up what they don’t know to fill the information vacuum. Leaders need not worry about overproducing or overediting what they say; the most important thing is to speak and write in an authentic voice — and do it promptly.
Team members need to hear regularly from their immediate team leaders, too, not just the highest-level organizational leader. Team leaders set the tone and serve as the voice of reality. Be clear, steady, and real. Support the organizational stance; if you bash the organization or its leadership, employees will lose trust. They need to be able to rely on their immediate leader for honesty and stability. In normal circumstances, a weekly cadence for one-on-one conversations is the most powerful, but daily communication should be a requirement in these fraught times.
Feeling Seen and Heard
For organizational leaders, tone is an essential differentiator. Your employees are human, so speak to them like they’re human. While there’s no need to sugarcoat, there’s a high need to remember that you’re communicating with — and relying on — a whole bunch of people who are making the future viability of your company a top priority in their lives.
Team leaders should remember that radically frequent attention from the most important person (MIP) to us is the common denominator of performance, trust, and resilience — and not just at work. If your nonwork MIP said “I love you” only once a year or once a month, might you question that person’s true feelings? The same is true at work. Let your team members know that you see them and care about them. How you show attention — text, video chat, phone calls — doesn’t matter. Just show it.
Keeping Focused and On Track
Organizational leaders must maintain a focus on what’s most important: first, the health of your employees and their families, and second, the current state of the business. Be clear with your employees that what you know is changing rapidly and that your actions will change accordingly.
As they encounter anxious chatter in work circles, team leaders should keep in mind that it’s only human to be worried and scared — and that distancing ourselves from urgent concerns is difficult. Your employees need clarity from you around the most critical work to be done right now. They need to know what’s urgent and what can wait. They will be able to focus more clearly if they trust that you are their No. 1 advocate for the resources they need and that you will support them when they need to take care of things outside of work.
The chief human resources officer of a large global organization ended a recent email to the company by writing, “I am so proud of you all. I count on you to take care of our clients and yourselves. Take a deep breath and do something fun at home while comforting your loved ones.” This attitude embodies exactly the kind of approach we should all take as leaders. This is our time to step up; there’s never been more at stake. Now more than ever, we need to be real, we need to be human, and we need to pay extra attention to our most important people, at work and at home.