Purpose and Transparency — How to Ease Pandemic-Related Employee Fears

This is a guest post from Jori Hamilton (see bio at the end) – thanks for the article Jori…!

The coronavirus pandemic has created unforeseen and unique challenges for employees and employers alike. While some of the initial dangers and unknowns of the pandemic are officially in the rearview mirror, there are still countless challenges that are fostering intimidating fears in employees across the globe.

The Unique Fears of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Employees have always had to deal with fears on a daily basis — but never so much as during the coronavirus pandemic. Even during the Great Recession, there was a certain level of inevitability that could be counted on as the economy initially collapsed and then began a slow and steady recovery.

With the COVID-19 crisis, however, uncertainty is the name of the game. For instance, quarantines and shelter-in-place orders initially threatened to kill all business overnight, that is until it was combatted with mass migration to work-from-home, remote work environments. And then there’s the PPP.

The paycheck protection program enabled companies to temporarily furlough workers as they attempted to wait out the first stage of the pandemic. But then the money ran out and even big companies like Disney had to turn well-meaning furloughs into devastating layoffs. Practically overnight, tens of thousands of workers who were waiting to go back to work found themselves unemployed — and that after months of already struggling to make ends meet.

The concern of staying employed isn’t even the only one that workers are facing during the crisis. Even if you keep your job and are called back to work, if that work takes place in an office, a storefront, or any other brick-and-mortar location, there’s an added element of risk and danger involved.

Workers must face the daily risk of coming face to face with countless others who speak, touch, and generally invade their personal spaces. This can introduce potential health risks and naturally opens the employee up to catching the virus.

This isn’t just a passing concern or a fear that has been blown out of proportion. Amazon recently opened up about its workforce — which regularly comes into contact with coworkers and consumers alike. Their feedback? 20,000 of their employees had caught the virus by October, just over half a year into the pandemic.

The point is, there are undeniable and unprecedented reasons that employees are uniquely and genuinely fearful in their current work environments.

This leaves it up to their employers, managers, and leaders, in general, to take the reigns and steer their staff away from those anxieties and stressors. How? Through two key concepts: purpose and transparency.

The Importance of Transparency

Transparency is a crucial aspect of any company’s success. Modern businesses are expected to be above board with things like corporate social responsibility, ingredients and nutrition labels, and information on how their products are manufactured.

In addition to customer-facing transparency, modern businesses are expected to provide a more inclusive, information-filled approach to their employees, as well. This focus on transparency is particularly crucial during times of crisis.

With so much in doubt, it falls to leadership to keep their staff informed and up to date on potential changes that could take place. This awareness of the “good the bad and the ugly” can serve an important role in allaying employee fears.

Even when it comes to something like the potential for layoffs or a business closure, being transparent can help create a sense of teamwork and trust. It sends the message that “we’re all in this together” and encourages employees to step up and be a part of the solution.

Ways to Be More Transparent

While the concept and benefits of transparency are fairly easy to understand, it can be difficult to truly apply transparency in the workplace. A few suggestions for easy places to start include:

  • Making a point to communicate regularly: The simple act of reaching out regularly is critical. This should be done in small doses, as the ability to retain large amounts of information may be challenging in the midst of a crisis. In addition, honesty and vulnerability should be reflected in transparent communication from leadership to employees.
  • Practicing active listening: The ability to communicate is a two-way street. As such, employers should take care to actively hear and empathize with employees on a regular basis. This should include receiving and trying to provide genuine, heartfelt answers to employee feedback.
  • Proactively providing important information: For example, if you find that coronavirus isn’t just a threat at work, but it may not be covered by workers comp either, it’s important to let your employees know about this before giving them the option to come into the office.

The Power of Purpose

Along with transparency, it’s essential that employers provide a sense of purpose throughout these trying times. Allowing a rudderless attitude to fester in your workplace can be detrimental to morale and productivity alike.

In order to avoid apathy and a lack of conviction in employees, leadership must take the reigns and provide a sense of direction and purpose for their company. This can take on many forms, from staying safe and working effectively, to taking a stand on the front lines of the coronavirus response. Whatever the specifics, imbuing your workforce with a sense of purpose isn’t just helpful, it’s a critical responsibility of leaders everywhere.

Ways to Be More Purposeful

Purpose can be provided in a variety of different ways, many of which are fairly nuanced, such as:

  • Embracing flexibility: The ability to balance responding and adapting to change while still remaining productive and focused can be challenging. However, by showing concern for your employees by adjusting your methods and expectations, you can foster a sense of teamwork and loyalty that will, in and of itself, help to provide focus and purpose as you survive each and every day together.
  • Focusing on performance, not hours: By focusing on the quality and quantity of production from your team rather than the number of hours that they’re putting in, you can help your employees feel happy and respected. This will boost their sense of purpose and commitment toward their work.
  • Provide “magic feedback”: If you want your employees to benefit from a sense of purpose, try to provide magical feedback, which highlights the fact that you know they are capable and, thus, trust and expect them to put their best foot forward.

Quietly and subtly providing a sense of purpose for your employees can go a long way in allaying fears and keeping their minds focused on positively getting through each day.

Purpose and Transparency: Antidotes to Fear in the Workplace

Fear is a canker that can undermine stability, productivity, and teamwork. Nevertheless, fear is a reality in most employees’ lives during the ongoing pandemic.

Fortunately, this provides a unique opportunity for leadership to step up and calm these fears by maintaining transparency and providing purpose. This one-two punch of communication and focus can help your employees regain a sense of calm that will help them remain healthy and effective members of your team throughout the turbulent months ahead.

Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity, marketing strategies, and HR solutions. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.  

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach