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Sustainable practices for enhanced employee wellbeing during covid-19

May 8, 2020
Harriet Mate-Kole
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Uncertain crises, place leaders in a critical situation and even more critical one when leaders want to advance their business sustainably. During a global crisis like the pandemic, the entire working population is concerned about the impact of declined economic growth on their financial and career stability. In advancing a sustainable business model, leaders are also critical of the trade-offs of operational costs and employee well being. As a business, we recognise that communication, collaboration, continuous monitoring, and feedback are critical to enhancing employee wellbeing amidst uncertain economic situations.


Communicate

While business leaders have increasing fears about business continuity and profitability, employees are uncertain about potential lay-offs and cuts. Although some trade-offs may be inevitable for some business, the process can have reduced negative impacts with good communication. From experience, we have found it helpful to openly engage employees collectively in our crisis response. Through open town hall meetings, we were able to discuss the concerns of employees during a crisis and their perceptions of its implications on business operations in the next months or year. This is relevant because, in crisis response, it is relevant to seek the concerns of vulnerable groups to ensure that they can cooperate when solutions are being implemented. Thus actively engaging employees is a requirement for a sustainable response to COVID 19. As a business through communication, we were able to determine that the top three concerns of employees were health, maintaining productivity levels, and the ability of the business to thrive despite the situation. Communication can be done virtually or physically (if your jurisdiction permits). However  the most important thing is to ensure that employees regardless of their expertise or role in the organisation have equal opportunity to contribute. Open and equal communication ensure that all employees are engaged.


Collaborate

When employees are assured that their opinions are valuable to the progress of a business during an uncertain crisis, they are empowered to collaborate with leaders. From our experience, we realise that the sustainability of trade-offs is influenced by the level of collaboration between leaders and employees. This is because while leaders have oversight of the business and a focus on minimising operational costs and losses, employees have direct insights into the core activities of the organisation that impact efficiency/output and how that can be sustained in different situations. For example, during one of our town hall sessions where we discussed remorse work, employees had the opportunity to share their views on which aspects of the business could be performed remotely and which aspects could not be performed remotely. It is worth noting that while managers approached the discussion from the point of view of minimising costs directly, employees approached the discussion from the point of view of protecting employee welfare. With a cost minimisation approach, we run the risk of eliminating some jobs. However, with a point of view to collaborate or redefine duties, we had reason to maintain jobs efficiently. For example, we could have eliminated the role of a company driver if we were focused on minimising costs. However, as we engaged employees, we saw the opportunity in adding more administrative duties that required physical presence at the office to the role of a driver. This contributed to reducing the number of employees required to be physically present at the office premises and ensured the role remained relevant to the business. In this scenario, things could have had a totally different outcome where we eliminate a role, outsource transportation which would then require the physical presence of another employee to carry out some administrative functions. Although there are some cost savings, in that scenario, some employees lose their source of income in a crisis situation where people have increased financial dependency and another employee is burdened with more duties in a situation where there is increased domestic dependency. This scenario would not have been sustainable for the business in promoting employee welfare. Thus, we recognize that through collaboration, we can make sustainable business management decisions that balance minimising costs and promoting employee wellbeing during the pandemic.


Continuous Monitoring and Feedback  

The pandemic is an uncertain crisis for both leaders and employees. Most businesses are experiencing tremendous changes in how activities in the business are performed. A common example is how most communication and staff engagement is now very virtual. This has implications on the performance of employees across departments. While some departments may be slightly affected others may be adversely affected. In addition, employees are also dealing with some degrees of uncertainties and changing domestic conditions (for example home care for the aged and home school) which have an impact on their performance at work directly or indirectly. Thus, for sustainable business management during the pandemic, there is the need to continuously monitor employees’ engagement and productivity as well as seek their feedback on changes in the business. This is critical because the uncertainties businesses are operating in today are influenced by several uncontrollable factors. Thus, continuous data collection from employees through monitoring and feedback helps business leaders to make more sustainable business decisions. Monitoring and feedback can either be done through virtual town halls or surveys. It is also essential to encourage all employees to participate in such activities because employee engagement is critical to how businesses navigate through crises sustainably.

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