The year of the pandemic has sparked more change than just working from home. In 2020, we all had to grapple with uncertainty, health concerns and isolation, while important movements like Black Lives Matter became more front of mind than ever.
What has come out of this period of crisis and change is an undeniable requirement for a new kind of leadership. Profit over people is not a mantra that sits well today. Experts are calling on CEOs to become Chief Empathy Officers, and employees want to work for leaders who go above and beyond to support the workforce, demonstrate they care, and make the right decisions.
As HR leads know, connecting leaders with employees is not just a way to share top-down, it also gives people a voice and ensures feedback and ideas are heard.
To enable this — and win employee loyalty for the long-term — HR tech teams must work closely with CEOs to create a culture that is honest, authentic, and accountable. But being a transparent leader in uncertain times isn’t always easy.
Creating a safe space
2020 has seen employee wellbeing and D&I initiatives brought to the boardroom like never before. Today it’s not enough to like your job, people want to know that the company they work for shares their values, delivers on its promises, and doesn’t just ‘talk the talk.’
Worryingly though, research from Accenture last year showed that only 36% of employees believe their employers create an environment where they can be themselves, raise concerns, and innovate without fear of failure. Clearly, space needs to be made for employees to voice issues and ideas — and leaders and HR tech professionals must work together to make this a reality.
A newsletter won’t cut it
What’s increasingly clear here is that waiting for the quarterly employee newsletter or sending generic emails after the fact just isn’t enough in 2021.
Employees want to democratize these difficult conversations at work, have a two-way dialogue and see their employer take action in real-time. They’re not looking for carefully formulated wording, but genuine progress.
That’s why more CEOs are using Live video to address issues and employee questions with a virtual ‘open door policy’.
For example, one global company hosted the first in a new series of town halls designed to get people talking on Workplace following the George Floyd protests.
This is an example of a company creating a transparent environment to ensure that people feel heard and supported in real-time.
The information imperative
Recent research found that 64% of people have experienced higher levels of anxiety during the pandemic — and it’s no wonder.
There’s no shortage of horror stories where employees have been left in the lurch, waiting to hear whether their jobs are secure or how long furlough will last. That’s why sharing information in real-time is critical to avoid leaving employees feeling anxious and out of the loop.
Restaurant chain Honest Burgers are one company that got this right from the beginning. When Covid-19 closed its restaurants, the company’s founders and people team went Live on Workplace to answer questions and reassure panicked staff they’d be looked after.
They then kept the dialogue open with regular Q&As and created a Workplace Chatbot once furlough was announced to answer the questions that were weighing on employees’ minds by giving instant access to furlough pay calculations.
Clearly being kept up to date with information is extremely important for employees — but the pandemic taught us that an honest ‘we don’t know’ is better than silence.
This is why lastminute.com has been hosting #AskMarco sessions with its CEO on Workplace during the crisis. While the company doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to the immediate future of travel, sharing updates and being honest where things are unclear is helping employees feel understood and in the know.
CEOs that go this extra mile to keep staff informed — and who are willing to be vulnerable and admit they don’t have all the answers — will create a working environment that breeds transparency, winning staff trust and, ultimately, loyalty.
Getting the pulse from the ground
For many leaders, visiting sites and engaging with employees was critical to their day-to-day pre-pandemic. Covid-19 has prevented this and — in many cases where staff work on the frontline without access to tech or email — has removed the only channel between employees and their leaders. In the context of a pandemic, where communication with the frontline becomes a health and safety imperative, this is a huge challenge.
So how can leaders replace in-person interactions, ensure they’re up to speed on and prioritise the needs of all employees in our increasingly virtual world of work?
Take hotel group Ennismore. With frontline staff spread across 10 properties and two continents, it’s impossible for the CEO to be across everything that’s happening at various sites. This challenge only increased during the pandemic, so Ennismore paired regular CEO Live video sessions with an ‘Anon bot’, enabling anyone to submit anonymous questions directly to the CEO.
When companies create these kinds of channels for direct interaction between employees and leaders, they’re creating feedback opportunities.
This not only ensures employees have a voice and feel valued, it also helps companies understand the sentiment — so, despite the physical distances, executives can walk the floors and stay close to their business.
And this isn’t just a job for annual pulse surveys. Companies that understand employee experience are tracking feedback week-on-week to build policies that work for their people, and in turn their customers.
When it comes down to it, employees are the business — not just the people who feel the effects of business decisions. And today employees expect more of their leaders than ever before. By embedding transparency and authenticity into the company with the help of technology, CEOs and HR departments can together ensure their people feel heard, understood, and supported.