With the current state of affairs in our country and the world at large, workers have undergone a mass exodus from their office buildings into their homes. In the past, the possibility to work from home has been a favorable option for some workers. However, under the new structure, it has become a necessity. Managers and team members alike are adjusting to the new landscape of working remotely, an environment that most workers had never before experienced.
Even workers who previously worked from home are finding difficulties in the new arrangement. Entire families are now home together, many with young students who are experiencing being homeschooled for the first time. In addition, not all homes have the flexible layout necessary to accommodate several separate work and/or study spaces.
What’s more– and most important– everyone’s level of stress and anxiety is reaching an all-time high. We are all dealing with the confining effects of a pandemic without regard to our position within our companies. Some families are additionally burdened by having family members with underlying health issues and/or advancing age, whether living with us or apart, results in additional suffering.
A Helping Hand
Almost every company has distributed a “plan for the future” outlining their approach to the pandemic and addressing what lies ahead. Most statements include some variation of the phrase, “The health and safety of our employees is of our utmost concern.” In addition to sending employees home to work, what are companies actually doing for their employees? What are leaders doing?
Kent Taylor, the founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse, donated his salary and yearly bonus to guarantee his employees’ wages during the crisis. A New York City landlord waived the rent for 200 tenants for the month of April.
The conversation is much larger than helping employees bridge the transition from office worker to remote worker. Beyond daily check-in calls, Zoom meetings, and structured schedules, leaders have a bigger role here.
Let’s Be Real
I recently stumbled upon a quote circling around online that sparked my interest. The quote said, “You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”
Both large corporations and small businesses are focused on financially surviving the crisis, fixated on numbers, deadlines, and production. While all are valid and pressing concerns, they shouldn’t replace or rank above the concerns of human suffering and wellbeing.
Great leaders recognize the additional hardships affecting their workers’ performance and communicate support through these critical times. They acknowledge that, in today’s crisis, workers are challenged with the emotional stress of knowing what’s happening in the world, and yet have to continue to maintain a high level of performance in their jobs.
When leaders aren’t having conversations based on the reality of what they’re dealing with, team members are left feeling stranded. Ignoring reality and continuing business as usual puts financial success above human suffering.
Many businesses view this time as an opportunity to tackle back burner projects and get ahead of the game. How can we work harder and smarter? Many companies erroneously assume that during this period of lower output, workers have time on their hands to undertake additional projects.
While deadlines and workload are important, companies ignoring the realities of what employees are going through and pushing extra responsibilities is detrimental to employees adjusting to the changing realities.
On top of the emotional stress of a pandemic, people are suffering mass layoffs, rising unemployment, and dwindling retirement funds. Employers who add to that stress and anxiety by piling on expectations are hurting the very people they should be championing. Leaders may not be able to promise a secure job– it’s too uncertain a time for that– but they can certainly offer a sense of gratitude and support while everyone struggles with their new paradigm.
Responsibilities can’t be abandoned, but everyone deserves a level of understanding and compassion in the midst of the chaos. While leaders’ empathy goes a long way, the individual is still responsible for adjusting to their new reality. Drawing a balance between team members and leaders, structure and flexibility, work talk and real talk may take a period of trial and error. Be patient with yourself and with others. This too shall pass, and hopefully we can all learn a lesson of humanity from it.