Managing the challenges of a ‘Covid’ Christmas
Crazy chaotic times for businesses and all of us in HR, and just when so many of us thought that things were easing and life was getting more predictable, along comes another variant. Never before has HR had such a critical role to play in organisations.
Here are just a few of our thoughts on potential employee relations issues that may crop up and some proactive steps you can take to minimise the impact, so you don’t lose valued staff.
Christmas – bah humbug!
Whilst we hope that most HR functions have not been drawn into organizing Christmas parties just because HR can do everything like that 😊, HR functions do need to be attuned to the employee relations issues arising out of cancelled festivities. Despite many organisations’ best intentions having arranged and paid deposits for parties, the reality for many staff is that this Christmas will pass yet again without an overt ‘thank you’ from their organisations or a chance to let their hair down a bit with colleagues. At Jaluch last year we had one secret Santa present under the office tree until at least Easter, by which time the fun of giving and receiving has long since passed.
Extra effort will need to go into acknowledging staff, saying thank you, finding alternative ways to reward if a party or dinner has been cancelled to avoid making the organisation look like ‘scrooge’. It’s not too late to organise an online quiz, source a New Year’s Eve present or organize some other kind of ‘thank you’.
“The great resignation”
With the holiday time with our families and friends under threat and the rules changing seemingly every day, we need to remember that it is times of strife and challenge that often cause people to rethink their career, job, life etc. Yet again, employers, through no fault of their own, will have staff rethinking what they want out of life. Most employers are already experiencing the reality of ‘the great resignation’, and at Jaluch we can only predict that an unsettled Christmas and threats of New Year lock down will add to this.
Do you know who is unsettled in your team? Do you know who feels they are being taken advantage of? Do you know who feels their career is not progressing as they would like? Have you thought to pick up the phone to those you know might be most affected? Emails are so anonymous and video calls have started for many to feel like endless drudgery, so why not do something a bit different, pick up the phone!
Recently it’s started to feel like a really good way to connect with people. Just taking time to listen can be invaluable. And if someone wants you to pay attention to their career, saying you will have a think and aim to have something organised by Easter just won’t cut it. There really is no time to delay if you want to retain great people.
Another really valuable thing you can do right now is a staff survey – open questions of course, this is not about gathering scores out of 10 for training provision or staff morale, but instead a really important opportunity for staff to tell you, in their words, what is going on in their lives at work that is working well or not working so well.
The Grinch has stolen a fair few winter holidays too. And whilst yet again, this is not the employer’s responsibility or fault, HR do need to factor in how people are feeling and address the two fold issue of their staff not having the holidays they need to unwind and relax but also the frustrations and stresses that will have arisen through cancelled plans and potentially the extra costs. Think of those who returned from South Africa a few weeks ago and suddenly had to spend several thousand pounds on isolation hotels.
Perhaps a useful thing to do will be to understand who is exhausted and worn out but who has now had a great holiday cancelled or about to get their skiing trip cancelled? Take time to identify who needed the holiday and talk to them about how you can support them to unwind or de-stress despite the changed plans. Even training about how our brains work in relation to stress or change might help just by raising awareness of what we can control (once we know how) and what makes us feel out of control.
Whilst it might seem like the fair thing to do, when your employee asks if they can cancel the holiday time they had booked, think carefully about whether agreeing to cancel is the right thing for either the organisation or the employee – perhaps time is needed away from work even if that means they have to stay at home, just to have a break. You must also be careful not to let all the time off across your team stack up to the end of the year, as has so often been the case in the past two years. As a rule of thumb, if they haven’t taken any proper holiday in the past 6 months, now is probably not a good time to cancel this break from work too.
The impact of reverting to working from home
With another semi or full lockdown looming, we talked 18 months ago, right at the start of Covid, about our experiences across decades that has shown us how productivity initially rises when people work from home but then it steadily drops and with it too, the engagement of those staff who become increasingly isolated from their businesses and teams. Disengaged staff then do one of three things – they resign, they bring a tribunal claim on the basis of being skipped over for promotion (or similar) or they freeload i.e. they work the bare minimum (or even less than minimum quite often we find) from home whilst you continue to pay them a fair wage.
We see many people working from home reverting to just doing the job, nothing more, gone is the awareness of what colleagues need and what the wider business needs, gone is the ability to identify gaps or issues and to innovate or create to develop or build new solutions. All of that is just an unfortunate, but very predictable outcome of being ‘absent’.
Organisations need to take steps to ensure that space is made to innovate, that people are encouraged to come together safely to problem solve from time to time. Perhaps the hybrid approach with some home working and some office working, even during a period of semi lockdown will both reduce the spread of virus but also save your organisation form a steady downhill slide through lack of growth and innovation. So too would be stimulating and engaging online sessions run for the sole purpose of team building, innovating, relationships building etc. How refreshing to spend time away from an intense focus on task and bring in time to actually talk to each other and enjoy each others’ company. It can be really engaging and fun if you run a good session, so don’t believe those who say all online training is boring!
Please do ask us if you want any inspiration or why not sign on to our Train the virtual Trainer session on the 2nd February 2022.
Lockdowns also negatively impact those who have inadequate space to work in or who do not enjoy working from home. Often our workplace extroverts can be hugely impacted by social isolation, and we steadily lose the energy they used to bring into work with them. What a loss that is. Some of our extroverts will lack self-awareness and won’t even know why they have lost their energy and zest for life. Again, you can educate them more about this so people don’t feel quite so out of control.
We know the young are affected too with their loss of mentors, role models and those they learn from at the start of their careers. We also know that those with mental health issues pre Covid have had a massive hit with their health because of lockdowns and the loss of the activities that were supporting their recovering.
Let’s take some time in January to work really, really hard to bring people together despite the difficulties. You know where we are if you want a little inspiration or a sounding board for your ideas as to how to achieve this.
What can be done to minimise the ongoing damage?
Lots of challenges as always for both HR and business teams, Covid really has tested us all, but here are some of our ideas about minimising the damage and mitigating the risks…
Whilst it’s not the perfect solution, as we said above, build in more team building, get creative with how you engage people, put some money into it as engaging staff now could save you a lot of money in terms of recruitment fees or recruitment time if you lose valued staff.
Create socially distanced spaces at work…
Encourage those who are struggling or find life working from home difficult to come in and safely work. Make it easy for staff to ask to attend the office, not create complex process and procedure that will just create frustrations.
Set up workplace challenges…
Such as a steps challenge to get people out of their homes and exercising. The whole team can download an app and compete against each other. We use an app called Outwalk.
Roll out mental health awareness training…
So we can all be more aware and conscious of what we need to do to support both ourselves and others – this can be one level for staff and one for managers
Sign up to one of our online sessions to help those who get neck, shoulder, back and eye aches from too much ‘zooming’. A little online support can go a long way and as one delegate said, ‘my kids said I looked two feet taller’ after my session with Ben!’ Contact us for more information.
Roll out a staff survey…
Now and running across the first few weeks of January so you can better understand the ‘lay of the land’ when it comes to what your people want and need.
Mental health first aider training
Book in some staff who volunteer for 2 days of mental health first aider training – but read our HR Blast on this topic first!
Plan and announce your training plan for staff for 2022…
Knowing that some development opportunities are on the way will be a great incentive for many staff, great for engagement and staff morale all round!
Train up your managers to give them the skills to better manage remotely…
Plus, deal with those who still resist the camera when managing online – perhaps it’s about time that we all had a zero tolerance policy towards managers who say they find managing remote staff too difficult? Tough! Get the camera on and start managing! Life has moved on and they need to move on with it.
So that’s all from us – a bit of encouraging, coaxing and a gentle boot up the backside for managers who have yet to move on! We encourage you to throw yourselves into getting creative with solutions, don’t leave it all on the shoulders of one person who will only have one perspective and 24 hours in their day. You might even appoint a remote working group, full of people who can think about what is needed, how to support, be creative in introducing new ways of working, managing and team building online etc. This is ripe for a cross function collaboration to tackle a complex problem that pretty much every organization is facing. A great opportunity for the right people in your teams.
So let’s make sure that whilst the Grinch has stolen Christmas and is sucking way too much positivity out of all of us, we are still confident in how to manage well and have a plan of action to bring a smile to the faces of our team members.
Jaluch supports numerous organisations in numerous ways – ad hoc HR support, training, train the trainer, team building, culture change etc. Check out our website for more information or contact us to speak to one of the team!