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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

C-Suite Advisory

The Human Side of Work: How leaders can support employees through Inauguration Day and beyond

Programmers at IT company

In difficult times, a simple human response from your company’s leaders can go a long way.

As Joe Biden is set to become the 46th president of the United States tomorrow, employees – still reeling from the Capitol riot and 2020 in general – are bracing for what may happen this week.  And they’re looking to their employers to step up and communicate now.

But is it appropriate for businesses to speak out about societal or political events? According to a poll conducted recently by Golin and Ipsos most Americans don’t want CEOs involved in politics. So, from a communications standpoint, what is a CEO to do?

Here are some practical ways in which leaders can support employees in the days and weeks to come, by focusing on a human response, not a political one.

Ask, don’t assume

It is never too late to hear from employees. Good old-fashioned dialogue works well: pick up the phone, jump on Zoom, and enlist managers to get to your employees. It’s not just about gathering information but demonstrating that you’re listening, hearing and acting. You can also do a quick pulse survey to understand what employees need from you now. Tapping into your Employee Resource Groups is yet another way to gather some knowledge and intelligence.

Ideally, organizations will have created a safe space where employees also feel comfortable proactively surfacing their needs. Louise Coyne, a senior employment lawyer, says, “It’s important that companies send a loud and very clear message of empowerment to employees to come forward with their needs — without impunity.” It really is a two-way street.

It’s also not too late to do some quick scenario planning. Based on your intel gathering, what are you hearing and sensing? Will employees be totally out of commission tomorrow and glued to the screens?  (note to my boss: I will be). Will they want to take time to join in demonstrations? Or just have time to process and deal? Will they pressure leadership to take a stand? What’s the worst thing that can happen and how will you respond? A little preparedness, even at the 11th hour, can go a long way.

Don’t let silence create the narrative for your organization 

After the Capitol riot, I remember doom scrolling on January 6th and 7th, and perhaps that weekend as well, and was surprised how many people on social media were complaining – bitterly disappointed – that their employers were totally silent. The steps you take now to support and empower your employees will be remembered well after the turmoil has abated.

And so, please, don’t wait until January 21 to communicate with employees. Be proactive today with your workforce; even those outside the US can benefit from hearing your POV. A good place to start: Acknowledge the challenging climate and shared angst; remind employees that their needs matter and to lean on managers and leadership if they have concerns; continue to describe how the organization will support its employees and where to go for resources and information; and re-iterate the company’s internal and external communication policies. You don’t need ‘perfect’ positioning or a long video message – but you do need to get to employees quickly to offer some hope and some help.

It’s also important to provide your managers with simple talking points so they are prepared to have meaningful conversations with employees. Check on your managers’ wellbeing, too, while you’re at it. For these managers, extra support and guidance are essential if they are to remain resilient and motivate their teams.

Offer hope for the future

As you’re communicating with employees, don’t just focus on the here and now. Re-iterate the company’s vision for the future, where employees can play a critical role, and all the ways in which they can find common ground and unite.

Remind employees why it is critical to remain true to your core values and purpose. Leaders should also remind people the importance keeping discourse in the workplace respectful. Set clear expectations for behavior that reflect what you already stand for as a companyMany of our clients will be sending newsletters and Yammer posts out today, reminding employees what is permissible, what is not, and where to go for more information.

In addition to reminding employees about the importance of maintaining mutual respect, give employees a way to deal with their feelings. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Stress in America report more than 77% of adults say the future of our nation is a significant source of stress. Organizations should look at the holistic well-being of its employees and provide a broad range of tools, resources, and support.

As you think about handling the current situation and supporting employees through a difficult period, also think about how you can form deeper connections with your employees for the long-term. Basically, support employees before they need to be supported. At our firm, Peppercomm, for example, every single employee is trained in stand-up comedy, and it’s not just for the laughs. This ongoing training has enabled us to build bonds with people, develop trust, embrace vulnerability and build resilience. And when you build resilient employees, you build resilient businesses – which has never been more important.

In summary

Tomorrow is Inauguration day. The country is divided and fragile and people’s emotions are running high. When challenging societal events occur, they happen everywhere – including at work – and leaders have a responsibility to support its employees who, at the most basic level, are looking for empathy, compassion, clarity, honesty and real strategies for managing work and life through this difficult period in our country’s history. For more information, please visit Peppercomm’s 2021 US Presidential Inauguration Playbook.


Written by Courtney Ellul.

Courtney Ellul
A partner at Peppercomm, Courtney helps organizations create strong employer brands and improve employee engagement. She spearheads the internal communications efforts for several B2B clients in the U.S. and in Europe and manages global integrated campaigns. Courtney Ellul is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.
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