There is a missing piece in the business continuity plans of many organisations, and it could be their undoing.

Author: Rebecca Wilson, Director of Human Experience

Even on our best days as leaders, communicating with and listening to our employees is still a challenge. These challenges, along with the speed of change and the rate in which we are being required to make decisions puts at risk our ability to stay connected with how our employees are feeling.

According to Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice, “most organisations have focused on scenario planning and necessary operational responses to ensure business continuity. However, these plans often do not address, nor impact, employees’ ability to focus on their work.” We concur and in fact, extend this thinking to the critical need to shore up the employer brand of your organisation.

Do you really understand what employees are needing from you right now or are you making assumptions and decisions based on hunches? Further, do you understand the impact of how they are feeling on their productivity and perception of the organisation?

Don’t get me wrong, organisations are naturally focused on the impact of COVID-19 on their consumer brand reputation. How your organisation is perceived as handling this crisis will have impact for years to come. It’s just that there’s a whole separate set of concerns relating to our workplaces and to recover well (because this will end), organisations will need employees who feel supported through the challenging days. Will your employees’ memories of how they felt during the crisis mean they will stick with you and advocate your brand as an employer?  Or will they move on as soon as they are able, possibly becoming loud detractors of your organisation, impacting your ability to attract the best candidates?

While there’s been no shortage of research and information to understand the consumer impact of this current crisis, the focus on employees is, in my opinion, somewhat lacking, particularly in relation to how their current feelings, needs and motivations are being understood and managed.

One exception is the Forrester #pandemicex research. While mainly focused on a US sample (Europe and APAC have just been released), there are tiered learnings for all leaders and organisations to consider as we battle a similar war on all fronts. Critically, the research is being led by a behavioural psychologist, Dr James McQuivy, which ensures an authentic, human-centric lens. I found the following findings particularly interesting (and to some degree, alarming!)

  • As at the end of March, 41% of US workers are “afraid to go to work” due to risk of exposure. That’s a significant number, don’t you think?
  • Just over a third of employees disagree with the statement that “My company will put my health and wellbeing first in making decisions about the risk of coronavirus”
  • 37% say they have a hard time managing my family/childcare responsibilities working from home during the coronavirus situation

The significant impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on employees’ personal and work lives is leading to employee anxiety, frustration and burnout. The key to all of this is adequate understanding of the true state of mind of your employees. This is not going to be achieved by just asking them how satisfied they are with the company’s response, as I have seen suggested. If your organisation is not already acting to understand the true impact on your employees, whether your business is ramping up or down, then you must do so now. If you engage with people’s core motivations, your actions are more likely to be right.

Sprout’s annual “Mood of Australia” research validates the assertion that high performing brands are better addressing human motivational drivers – what their customers are seeking to ‘feel’ more or less of right now. We are currently in field with a Special Edition of this research which will include looking into the human motivational drivers that are most present right now for employees and how organisations are successfully (or not!) delivering on these.

Using longitudinal qual and quant research, we will uncover organisational behaviours and actions that have built positive or negative associations in employees’ minds.

If you’d like to discuss how the Human Experience team at Sprout can help, please drop me a line! In the meantime, stay safe and look after one another.


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Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst