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Insights from 26,000 employees during COVID-19

Leading Organisations Through COVID-19

When COVID-19 circled the globe, organisations were forced to adapt quickly. Many demonstrated an unprecedented willingness and ability to support employees’ mental wellbeing, even while striving to keep business afloat.

Voice Project supported over 100 organisations who participated in our COVID-19 Staff Check-In Survey, providing feedback and insights on how our clients are managing the impact of workplace changes on employees and customers. We received responses from over 26,000 employees across diverse industries and sectors. Many found themselves working from home for the first time, some faced job loss or reduced hours, while others were on the frontline, adapting to new ways of providing face-to-face services in a world with COVID-19. All faced incredible uncertainty about the ongoing impact on their jobs. We heard about their challenges, fears, and concerns. We heard about what was helping them feel safe. And we heard great suggestions for staying productive.

What was most remarkable was the positivity of results. Across the organisations we surveyed, 80% of staff reported feeling emotionally well during this time. 86% reported confidence in their organisation’s ability to maintain services and adapt to the situation. This is significantly higher than during “normal times”. On average, staff satisfaction levels were 10 percentage points higher. Some organisations even found their staff satisfaction had markedly improved from feedback gathered only a few months earlier this year. This was completely unexpected. What was going on here?

insights on employee outcomes during COVID-19

We are conscious that the organisations represented here are already demonstrating a high level of maturity by seeking sensitive feedback in the midst of the crisis. It is also clear that, within the unique context we find ourselves in, many staff were grateful to remain employed. Yet it is undoubtedly evident that many organisations have been able to try new ways of working with some amazing results. Hearing from such a large cohort has enabled us to understand what has made the biggest difference for employee wellbeing and confidence so far. Here are some key insights for the continued challenges as workers slowly begin to return to a much-changed workplace.

Leading organisations through COVID-19

Communicate directly from the top

The impact of COVID-19 evolved quickly and created a great deal of uncertainty for organisations. For employees, uncertainty can be a great source of anxiety. We saw frequent concerns raised around job security and personal safety.

Providing clear and transparent information in times of uncertainty is no small feat - but many leaders stepped up to the challenge. Staff who felt honestly informed by their senior leaders were more confident in their organisation’s response to the situation and its ability to continue operating.

Effective leaders shared information staff needed to do their job safely and productively. They explained the impact of COVID-19 on the organisation and individual roles. They anticipated upcoming changes, were clear about what they knew needed to change, what wouldn’t change, and what decisions they were waiting to make. Most importantly, organisations with a robust communication strategy provided a reliable source of information, starving opportunities for rumours and false assumptions to take hold. This communication was far more effective when delivered directly by senior leaders.

Share job critical information

Employees who had access to job critical information were more confident in their organisation’s response to the situation and its ability to continue supporting customers.

Any large organisational change disrupts how work is completed. Often the unseen casualty is informal communication channels. COVID-19 was no exception. Communicating with colleagues became more challenging. It was no longer as simple as walking over to someone’s desk to ask a question. Organisations developed new communication channels to enable teams to connect and manage projects remotely. Others have created opportunities for co-workers to interact informally through online catchups, chat functions, competitions and activities.

Many organisations had processes and procedures that relied on staff being onsite. HR, IT, and other corporate services have worked hard to update these systems and allow staff to work remotely. While many of these changes felt rushed, pulse surveys and quick “check-in” conversations provided timely methods to assess how these changes were working, allowing for early refinements.

Trust and empower staff

While many of the challenges created by the situation were obvious, others were more subtle and not always visible to senior leaders. Organisations that fostered an environment where staff felt trusted and empowered to make role relevant decisions performed better. These staff reported higher levels of emotional wellbeing and were more confident in the organisation’s response to the crisis.

One of the foundations in creating an environment of trust is crafting opportunities for staff to put forward suggestions. Organisational surveys, continuous improvement systems and consultative groups are all ways of capturing staff suggestions. Our surveys showed that staff were willing to share the frustrations they were facing, the challenges they were anticipating and a wealth of actionable suggestions to overcome them. This created opportunities to demonstrate to staff that their input was valued and heard, while harnessing the communal thinktank for better decision-making.

Care for staff safety and wellbeing

Many of the most well-received communications focused on keeping staff safe and well. They contained information and guidelines on how to keep safe and protect the safety of people around them. Staff heard more clearly than ever that their employer cared about them and put their wellbeing above other considerations.

More importantly, many of the actions undertaken to adapt to COVID-19 have evidenced this commitment to staff safety and wellbeing. Transitioning staff to work from home, sourcing PPE and enabling social distancing all demonstrated the importance organisations placed on staff safety. We observed many strategies to support employee wellbeing, including:

  • Managers maintaining regular check-ins with their staff
  • Creating communication channels to help staff stay connected with their team
  • Developing new ways to recognise staff achievements
  • Openly encouraging staff to take time to adapt and recover
  • Connecting staff to external supports
  • Creating tailored messages and support solutions for those facing greater challenges from the situation

Organisations unable to demonstrate that safety was a key consideration had staff who didn’t feel valued, and they undermined staff confidence in the steps taken to adapt to the crisis.

As employees begin to return to the workplace in greater numbers, we are seeing anxiety levels start to rise again. Employees are reporting concerns about their safety and the speed of the transition. Yet many organisations are aware of the importance of staff wellbeing for their long-term recovery. As we move forward it will be important to continue the communication, care and trust that has been established. Reassure staff that their safety remains a priority, consult with staff about the process, and provide them with the information they need to be safe when they return.

As one HR manager told us, “COVID-19 is not something we can just power through, it is a marathon that we need to support our staff to undertake.”

If you are looking to check in on your employees' wellbeing and generate staff involvement our free COVID-19 Check-In Survey is still available. We continue supporting organisations with pulse surveys and engagement surveys. Contact us on 1800 886 423 or email enquiries@voiceproject.com