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How to support your managers amid the COVID-19 crisis

COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Marissa Melander | May 4, 2020

What can you do for managers so that they can best support employee wellbeing during and after the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic?

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Employee wellbeing: Now more than ever

In the coming days Willis Towers Watson’s experts look to expand on numerous hot button issues related to COVID-19 and the workforce. What are the considerations and options out there? Where should employers put their focus? How can employers truly keep their employees in the center of their decision making in these strained times? And how can supporting your most valuable asset, your employees, bring your company through this crisis?

In times of crisis, communications from leadership are essential and create consistency. One of the most effective ways to “get in front” of your employees is to leverage your managers. In fact, managers are now more important than ever in supporting your employee population.

Managers know their employees best. They know what will work for them and what won’t. They know how messages will be received and how to adjust the content and context appropriately. They know unique challenges that each employee is facing at work and at home. They have a unique level of trust, understanding, and connection with employees that you might not have at an organizational level.

There’s no one perfect way to support employees in an unprecedented situation like the COVID-19 pandemic. Saying that, employers need to arm their managers with tools and communications to support populations that will be experiencing a number of different situations. Managers need to navigate this uncertain time with employees with an abundance of empathy and guidance for their colleagues in our current times both on what we should be doing now and in the future.

It goes without saying that everyone’s situation is different which can be hard for a manager to navigate. We’re not going to find a person on a call, in the hospital break room, or on the factory floor who isn’t also in the midst of this pandemic in an individual and unique way. This reminds me to give grace to others; if a work assignment isn’t completed as I expected or if a colleague calls in late, or doesn’t appear at all, for a meeting, to remember that they are managing their own circumstances — shoes I may or may not be able to put myself in.

When I think of the strong managers I have worked with, the qualities that stand out include a sincere interest in who I am as a complete person, not only my sales; rather, they tried to understand my work life balance and where my skills fit into our work supporting clients and internal colleagues. This understanding will help managers navigate how they can support employees, what they could suggest and where they could offer interventions.

We also want to consider the differences in how we communicate to those we manage. While some colleagues need a cheerleader, others might prefer frankness, and still others prefer to be given more direction than they typically need. It’s incumbent on the manager to deliver the information in the way that suits the colleague best, perhaps using subjective methodology to determine that approach rather than a single objective approach for everyone. While a manager cannot always solve an issue, the manager can point the colleague in the right direction and empower the colleague with tools and information. That’s true in real life, in addition to work life.

Where do we go from here?

According to Willis Towers Watson COVID-19 Talent Implications Survey, nine in 10 respondents (89%) said their managers have “stepped up” to support their employees during the crisis. However, the survey also revealed only a quarter of respondents (24%) have increased training and development opportunities for managers during the crisis.

Immediate needs to manage through the crisis

  • Inform managers of a company’s full suite of programs and solutions meant to address employee wellbeing.
  • Stay connected to employees. What I’ve already learned, after being away from most human beings for several weeks, is that I enjoy reading people’s faces (maybe I knew that prior to the quarantine). Because of this, I’ve become an enthusiast of video calls, regardless of how I look. I’ve found that the managers who are taking advantage of Skype and Zoom for video functionality seem to, anecdotally, have happier teams who, like me, are becoming more willing to turn on our cameras.
  • Offer training on how to recognize symptoms of stress and depression. There are many trainings on mental health, empathy, and compassion. Managers need support to be able to effectively lead, and you can help them feel comfortable and adjust their style as needed during this time.
  • Provide manager trainings on balancing the “new normal” in people’s family dynamics such as home school, remote working, physical distancing, etc.
  • Create virtual social networks to allow employees to connect with one another and managers to have another avenue to hear employee feedback and concerns. This will allow them to more effectively lead and provide the resources people seek.
  • Remind managers to be flexible especially in regard to schedules. Managers need to be open and communicate that flexibility is OK and support employees along this transition.

Near term considerations to restore stability

As your organization is preparing for the transition back to work — either from remote to the office or from a COVID-19 workplace to post-COVID-19 — managers need to support what will be a very difficult transition.

  • Will some colleagues be fearful to walk into the office?
  • For those of us that commute on public transportation, what kind of experience and feelings will that initial ride hold?
  • What kind of safety precautions will we take on an individual basis and as an organization? More hand sanitizer? More deep cleanings? Temperature checks to enter the facility?
  • And when will we all be ready to meet again in person and socially connected again?
  • Will we ever shake hands again?

Prepare managers with the plans and context to the above concerns. They will help make your employees feel valued, engaged, and safe to come back to work. Give them the new policies, resources, and trainings that will be part of the new normal.

Operating post-crisis

Does the pandemic give you the perfect opportunity to align your corporate purpose to supporting colleagues? Of course, it’s impossible to predict where our nation, and our world, will go from here. As an organization that employs individuals from all different backgrounds, with entirely different hopes and dreams, the pandemic allows us to revisit how we support our people.

  • How will our day to day work change in the new normal?
  • Will we allow for more flexibility?
  • How are our working parents and families supported differently?
  • How are we connecting with one another?
  • What do managers need to know to create consistency across our workforce and successfully support employees?
  • What lessons will we take from all of this? How will our society change when restrictions are lifted?

In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy. There’s a lot to think about and manage and I know we’re all doing the best we can.


Director, Health and Benefits

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