It’s an incredibly difficult time for many businesses in Wales and the people who work for them.
I made it out for one last meal before the fire breaker began and when I was walking home, all I could think about was how hospitality and retail industry workers will end their week feeling uncertain about their future. I grew up in a family that relied on the hospitality industry to pay the bills, so it feels very close to home.
It’s been confirmed that this short, sharp lockdown will end after 17 days, so hopefully everyone whose job is being directly impacted will be able to return to some form of normality. Even then, we won’t have the luxury of certainty for some time. We also have to recognise that some people have been on furlough for seven months and face an increasingly uncertain future, while sadly some people who have never been out of work before have been made redundant.
Some of us have been fortunate enough to be able to work from home, and we do not take that for granted. But despite the ‘perks’ of flexible working – and the gratitude everyone that can do so feels – it can be an isolating and demotivating experience if not managed carefully.
With all of this in mind and whatever situation you’re in, more than ever, we need to support each other as employers, as colleagues and as people. But how can we, as employers, do that?
Acts of Kindness. Whether that means picking up the phone for a chat, making time for a virtual coffee or just sending a message to check in. It’s about showing understanding, offering reassurance and flexibility. Lots of companies say they offer flexibility, but I’ve learnt recently that its more powerful if you demonstrate it, unprompted. It sounds obvious but being aware that lots of people are in difficult situations and finding ways to demonstrate kindness, rather than use kind words, is crucial. It helps all of us feel uplifted, connected and fuels us on when we need an extra push. If you’re in a position to invest in wellbeing services, you should do it. And if you already have them, take the time to promote them to staff on a regular basis. We have weekly mindfulness sessions and access to telephone counselling, but under the circumstances we’ve set up further communal support resources and have ramped up our internal communications activity. These Acts of Kindness don’t need to be huge commitments.
Communication. It’s vitally important to communicate regularly during times of uncertainty. You might not have all of the answers but you should share the information you do have so that everyone is on the same page. Nothing may have changed since you last communicated, but the fact that nothing has changed is just as important. As employers we have a responsibility to ensure our people are kept up to date with the latest information on what updated government guidance and rules mean for the business. For us, although we couldn’t change the circumstances we were in or invite everyone to meet up altogether, we did a video tour of the office, so that staff would know exactly what to expect if they were coming into the office. The information wasn’t ground-breaking, but we made a point to share what was happening, how the office was changing, what it might feel like to work there again and it struck a chord.
Empower your team to solve problems. It’s so important to engage our teams in problem solving. The pandemic has called for us to adapt and change our business models and priorities. So many puzzles to solve at once, but our teams are our chief problem solvers. They’re at the heart of what happens at our businesses every day, it’s what they do. So, we have to keep them involved in the process by empowering them to create solutions, so we can go forward together. One of the major challenges we faced at the beginning of the pandemic, was the number of queries we were having from customers in relation to insurance cover, often because they could not get through to their insurer on the phone. Our team came up with the idea of creating an online ‘COVID advice hub’ which we keep regularly updated to answer customer questions and concerns, and it sees a staggering amount of traffic compared to an average content article, reminding our customers we’re here to help. It’s amazing what your team can come up with when presented with a challenge, particularly if they see other colleagues’ ideas getting implemented.
Keep your culture alive. As employers, we have a responsibility to ensure it doesn’t become an afterthought when faced with other distractions. It’s vital for keeping our team connected, for their motivation and for their wellbeing. For those who have been furloughed or for whom business has stopped because of the fire breaker, keeping a sense of ‘togetherness’ won’t fix things, but it can help take the edge off. Hosting non-work related online events and activities can help keep everyone positive, as well as being more likely to talk about their situations and listen to others’. Every year our business celebrates Halloween with a party so this year we took those celebrations online with games, lip-sync competitions and a DJ – and for Bonfire celebrations we’re giving every staff member a ‘takeaway’ on us. Small things, and maybe not as good as getting together, but people tune into the spirit of pulling together to make the best of what we have to work with.
We don’t know what the future holds or how long things will be this way. As employers, we have a duty of care towards our staff, but it is also something many of us are proud and passionate about doing as well as we can. We have found that a continuous, small acts of support can go a long way and I hope you do too.