Post-Covid Employee Strategy: C-Suite Should Reset Empathy, Work-life Flexibility, and Wellness for Returning Workforce
With Covid cases on the decline, many organizations are planning to bring remote workers back into the workplace. CEOs are well-advised to demonstrate empathy as employees make their return-to-work journeys. C-suite should improve employee flexibility and wellness playbooks.
The workforce ecosystem had been under duress. The pandemic has shuttered most workplaces and sent people home to work remotely, with the future of how to work and where to work filled with obscurities and unknowns. Businesses have had to become accustomed to conducting ‘face-to-face’ meetings online and holding ‘brown bag lunches’ virtually.
Many businesses see a declining number of Covid cases as an opportunity to bring employees back to the workplace. Understandably, there will be hesitancy among many workers who worry about personal safety and health concerns. Others may be dealing with logistical challenges such as childcare issues with schools conducting remote learning, and still, others may be grieving, having suffered the loss of a loved one to the pandemic.
U.S. Covid deaths of over 538,000 present CEOs with a stark reminder that employee wellness is a critical component of any organizational strategy.
View wellness programs not as an onerous expense but as an investment in the company’s most critical asset – its people. The result will be increased productivity and corporate long-term earnings.
• Shape leadership with empathy with a jumpstart effort for workforce engagement by employee-facing with company-wide talks on commitments to their work support
• Reshape employee flexibility options for a dynamic-hybrid workforce. This flexibility should include fewer remote video conferences and enable more productive project time
• Increase investments in employee wellness programs to provide personnel with information and resources to make healthier lifestyle choices, e.g., gym and health clubs, insurance plan wellness upgrades, onsite wellness sessions, and support for volunteer activities
• Shape work team remote workers with work-life and work-family balance support options to allow more women to come back to work with childcare flexibility.
The workplace is changing, with increasing numbers of dynamic-hybrid employees, contractors, gig workers, temps-on-demand, machines-AI/ML-based algorithms, dynamic voice-assistants, and even robots. CEOs should be at the helm of this evolving ecosystem, creating new jobs to replace obsolete jobs and training their employees for new roles.
This research is the C-suite Playbook 2 of 2 from C-Suite Leadership: Engage in Remote Support Strategies for a Workforce Back To Work Journey.
Here is what CEOs need to include in critical C-suite workforce resets in your employee return-to-work playbook for 2021-2022.
Application of Leadership Empathy
Major crises or disasters, including pandemics, cause employees to bring a greater level of emotionalism to the workplace. This phenomenon runs counter to typical corporate culture, which seeks to neutralize emotionalism and minimize support.
C-suite executives have high business acumen; however, many may not have high levels of emotional intelligence (EI) and may apply dated playbooks for dealing with employees’ emotional problems. This minimal level of support or even acknowledgment of the impacts of crises on employee morale is detrimental to performance and will negatively affect long-term goals, outcomes, and profits.
“Leaders tend to overly rely on two plays from the old, traditional playbook of emotional management of team and organizations:“giving a pep talk and sounding the alarm.” – MIT Global Research.
Leadership can take an active role by incorporating empathy in its corporate ecosystem. Encourage business unit teams to focus on each team’s “primary job” work goals while observing the overall team emotional level.
Many corporations are bringing in EI training courses and coaches, both on-staff and outsourced. Leadership can deploy these resources for its teams to hone their skills.
Finally, leadership should deploy a more customized approach to “emotional management” (EM). MIT’s EM research finds it is critical for emotional landscapes. Leadership directly influences how employees understand situations, work tasks, and what actions to take. Employees can support or be a roadblock for leadership strat objectives and execution. Leaders shape EM messaging for each type of work and team-level environment. This EM effort applies to each significant crisis.
• Craft or reshape a one-day leadership applied empathy jumpstart workshop and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) rollouts to business units
• Develop a tailored work team “crisis” emotional landscape CHRO playbook with training, as appropriate, focusing on the team’s “primary job” direction and a follow-up solution. Alternatively, craft a new CHRO crisis playbook using team-based alignment by each corporate or social-emotional crisis.
Flexibility is a New Norm
Workplace flexibility is the “new norm” accelerating as a critical corporate principle for matching teamwork and employee for better work-life balance and work-family balance outcomes. When leadership applies it well, both the corporation’s and employees’ changing needs and expectations can adapt together. A flexible workplace meets the interests of both the employee and the corporation.
In other words, C-suite with CHRO leadership teams continues to improve and manage a flexible workplace through adaptable workforce flex-work policies and playbooks while reinforcing an enhanced employee-team experience. By allowing employees more flexibility in work hours and location for work-life balance, the workforce will become more competitive with upskilled corporate talent in the long run. It creates better job satisfaction that is key to employee turnover. It’s a win-win playbook.
“Job satisfaction has also been found to be a significant predictor of turnover and turnover intention” – NIH, National Library of Medicine, NCBI Research.
The new corporate workforce mix consists of employees (remote and onsite), contractors, temps, gig workers, professional services, outsourcers.
• Rethink how to align the corporate and workforce strategic goals for execution. The key is flexibility management.
• To further increase work-life flexibility and balance in a blended workforce, shift work into “work blocks” such as 20 or 40 hours each. Work teams can sequence, split up, and build out flexible schedules for team members.
Partnership Workforce Ecosystem Option
Another model is the workforce ecosystem concept. The workforce ecosystem is a holistic workforce with two or more corporations’ joint partnerships – internally and externally, to pursue individual, group, corporations’, and shared resources’ collective goals.
The workforce ecosystem leverages the combined enterprise workforce capabilities with the corporate board and CEO to drive an integration vision for the corporate strategy on recent innovative efforts. It gives the CEO the ability to leverage what the workforce ecosystem can provide for new business advantages instead of just going out and hiring new talent for each strategic goal.
Caution: CEOs need to ensure that federal, state, governance, and contracting regulations comply. In short, enterprise workforce ecosystem, flexibility, and time-based outcomes increase productivity, improve work-life management, and leverage workforce talent. It’s a journey, not a race.
• Reshape enterprise workforce ecosystem with the CHRO employee and partner playbook and training programs for team flexibility and time-based outcomes
• Shape workforce training on work-life balance and work-family balance for greater job satisfaction and outcomes
• Down-select up to just five productivity outcome metrics for employee and team buy-in for performance and outcomes
• Include any internal/external partner rules of engagement for the adoption of a workforce ecosystem.
Wellness Support Retrofit
CEOs who haven’t already done so should consider upgrading healthcare benefits to include employee and family mental health services. Many companies already have reliable health care benefit packages for employees, enabling them to be competitive for talent. Now they need to consider a shift for these benefits to support employee work-life management.
“Wellness and the mental health of our employees come first.” – Fran Katsoudas, Cisco’s Chief People Officer.
In 2021, there will be heavier corporate utilization for health care services in:
- On-going Mental Health
- COVID “Long Haulers” Readiness and Support
- Employee Family-Life Balance Dynamics and Burnout
- Substance Abuse
Ongoing Mental Health
The 2020-2021 pandemic after-effects expose gaps in the ability of many corporate healthcare plans to meet returning workforce challenges. There has been an increase in many mental health issues from the pandemic and remote work, especially anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and stress. CEOs need to move out quickly to increase wellness support. C-suite should review, reshape, and fund for rightsizing the support services policies with easy accessibility, as there may be significantly higher utilization rates for benefits and services such as hospitalization, counseling, therapy, and support groups.
• Update mental health support services and monitor surges of utilization to ensure the employee needs are being met with appropriate follow-up.
COVID-19 “Long Haulers” Readiness and Support
Millions of “long-haulers” suffering long-term effects from this pandemic will require help – retraining, additional care, reassignment, intermittent and family leave, and other support. Usually, the intermittent leave will be under the FMLA. Some of these individuals may be disabled and will fall under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Act entitles reasonable business accommodations or even state worker compensation coverage.
• Update HR healthcare benefits’ policies to support “long-haulers” adjustment and retraining
• Craft and update wellness support for family plans with dependents with “long haul” recovery conditions.
Employee Family-Life Dynamics and Burnout
Crisis rapid remote work models need to support employees suffering from the loss of friends and family members. They also need to accommodate family, work, and personal time. Often, employees perform workplace tasks remotely while trying to help students who are learning from home or younger children who can no longer go to daycare. Working with remote schedules can be especially difficult for employees with fewer resources.
Job burnout, including “The Zoom Burnout” phenomena, is now growing and getting worse. It kills productivity and increases turnover. According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is increased by chronic workplace stress and is at an all-time high.
“75% of people have experienced burnout at work, with 40% saying they’ve experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic.” – FlexJobs and Mental Health America Survey.
A comprehensive strategy should pay particular attention to lower-income employees who may have more challenges balancing work-life management. Also, reach out to female employees to get their input; working women usually carry the brunt for caregiving, daycare shortages, school support, and children with post-Covid “long-haul” and learning challenges.
• Update or reshape CHRO policies and playbook using internal or external employee legal expertise in the critical HR procedures below for improving workforce retention:
- Extended family leave
- Flex-part-time work schedules
- Paid Time Off (PTO) flexibility
- Temporary leave options, and
- Supporting caregiving services
• Update management and teamwork workforce guides for employee health using manager check-ins, reducing after-hour work requirements, and allowing downtime/flexibility on complex work closeouts.
Substance Abuse – alcohol, drugs, and controlled-prescription addictions
All forms of substance abuse have increased during the pandemic. Successful treatment and recovery require a comprehensive and holistic approach that is more complex than most rehabilitation treatment plans can offer. Corporations can offer programs that cover family as well as employee therapy. Most regional hospitals offer multifaceted treatment in their substance abuse programs.
• Review and revise HR’s employee addiction in health care coverage plans to ensure comprehensive care with follow-on support programs for all employee regions
• Consider individual hospitals’ and institutions’ corporate plans for easy access and overall corporate utilization cost savings
Into the Future!
C-suite can help leadership teams better manage change-driven social, work-life management, and economic forces with a dynamic-workforce and ecosystem. The goal should be to increase workforce energy, focus, integration, productivity, and leverage for “work of the future.” The corporate back-to-work dynamic-workforce reset requires demonstrations of leadership empathy, flexibility, and wellness. This reset will accommodate a combination of hybrid employees, contractors, gig workers, temps-on-demand, and machines -AI, ML, and robots in your workplace ecosystem into the future!
References and More Research Advice:
Business Management Daily. Davenport, Anniken, “COVID-19 long-haulers will likely be eligible for intermittent FMLA leave”, February 12, 2021.
Harvard Business Review. Kislik, Liz, “What to Do If Your Team Doesn’t Want to Go Back to the Office,” January 18, 2021.
MIT Sloan Management Review. Altman, Elizabeth J., Kiron, David, Jones, Robin, “The Future of Work is Through Workforce Ecosystems,” January 14, 2021.
MIT Sloan Management Review. Gratton, Lynda, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, “The Pandemic’s Lessons for Managing Uncertainty,” August 31, 2020.
MIT Sloan Management Review. Gratton, Lynda, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, “Four Principles to Ensure Hybrid Work Is Productive Work,” November 9, 2020.
MIT Sloan Management Review. Sanchez-Burks, Jeffrey, Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Bradley, Christina, Assistant Professor, Greer, Lindred, Doctoral Candidate, “How Leaders Can Optimize Teams’ Emotional Landscapes,” January 4, 2021.
NIH, National Library of Medicine, NCBI PMDI No. 32024155. Gragnano, Andrea, Simbula, Silvia, Miglioretti, Massimo, “Work-Life Balance: Weighing the Importance of Work-Family and Work-Health Balance,” Accepted, January 29, 2020.
Scientific American. Barber, Carolyn, M.D., “The Problem of ‘Long Haul’ COVID,” December 29, 2020.
The Analyst Syndicate. Guptill, Bruce, “Hold Off on Major WFH Decisions Through 2021,” December 31, 2020.
The Analyst Syndicate. Mann, Jeffrey, “The Workplace Has Changed Before. We Can Change It Again,” February 12, 2021.
Copyright @ 2021, STEVE HAWALD CEO CIO ADVISORY LLC. DISCLAIMER: This article is entirely my opinion without financial payments. The peer review was by French Caldwell. The editor review was by Regina Lapierre.