The workforce is fractured. This is how leaders need to bring people together
Compassion and humanity will be key at all levels to knitting back together a psychologically fractured workforce says Katie Jacobs, senior stakeholder lead at CIPD and business journalist.
For most businesses, the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic were a sprint. Digital transformation that would have taken years was completed in days, as vast swathes of the workforce began to work from home. Retailers and hospitality outlets switched to delivery-only models.
Several months later, it has become painfully, exhaustingly clear that what we thought was a sprint is, in fact, a marathon. The additional adrenaline rush of new ways of working is wearing off. We are fatigued. We are fed up. And it is starting to show.
Something that has raised its head in recent weeks through these conversations is what Jacobs describes as a “fracturing” of the workforce. As many organisations are considering how and when they can bring people back together physically the more challenging issue may be bringing them back together psychologically. Organisations of all sizes and across all sectors and regions have such a disparity of employee experiences of the pandemic that creating a sense of “oneness” is a formidable task.
Pre-existing schisms between frontline and support or managerial staff and between low-paid and high-paid workers have been made more visible and more profound by this crisis. It has become a matter of life and death. Low-income workers (often in frontline jobs) and those in precarious work are far more likely to die from the coronavirus. We are all in this together—but some more so than others.
But beyond even that dichotomy, the average workforce will contain a vast spectrum of pandemic experiences.
This uniqueness of experience challenges the concept of fairness. How can you be fair and consistent when the spectrum of needs varies so dramatically? Should you even try?
“We need more humane leadership. We need leadership as care, with a bigger focus on community, connectivity, and bringing people together.”INSEAD management professor Gianpiero Petriglieri
As human behaviour is messy and unpredictable, Jacobs says there are no easy answers to solving this. Many organisations are considering extra recognition for frontline workers, whether that’s cash, time off, or other perks. But the intangible is important too. Transparency is critical, with regular communications offering as much clarity as possible on why decisions have been made.
She says open and inclusive cultures, which welcome honest conversations, are needed. And people need to be given voice and choice. Autonomy in our ways of working is sorely lacking right now. Enforced home working, without the option to go into the office or a café for a change of scene, is not the same as flexible working, as it lacks the element of choice.
As businesses move into the rebuild and recovery phase, they are going to need the innovation, creativity, and productivity that comes from engaged, motivated, and connected teams. Fostering togetherness will not be easy. Jacobs says we should at least start by acknowledging the incongruity of experience within our workforces and building from a place of honesty and compassion.
Vanessa Pigrum, CEO Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership, says “Leaders need to inspire trust, and this comes from a consistency in their actions, not just words. Particularly during trying times, leaders need to acknowledge hardships with emotional courage and be willing to take action in solidarity with those who look to them for guidance. Importantly, effective leaders have a strong ethical framework to guide their decisions and actions, and allow themselves to be led by virtues like courage, kindness, generosity, and fairness.”
Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership draws on more than two millennia of philosophical thinking to foster in-depth, practical discussions that sharpen critical reasoning and strengthen moral courage. Since our formation more than 25 years ago, we’ve seen thousands of senior-level people across business, community and government benefit from our rigorous programs. Cranlana’s programs include the 2 day Executive Ethics, 6 day Executive Colloquium and year-long Vincent Fairfax Fellowship. We also deliver online and tailored corporate programs. Annual scholarships are offered to not-for-profits, start-ups and individuals.