Employees are facing unimaginable upheaval because of COVID-19. They’ve been forced to navigate a transformed virtual workplace while their personal world shrinks to within the limits of quarantines and social distancing. They’ve watched colleagues, family, and friends endure layoffs and furloughs alongside a drastically shrinking economy. They’ve witnessed an unprecedented number of lives lost. This stress and uncertainty mean that now, more than ever, building workforce resiliency matters.

Resiliency is what helps people withstand and adapt to extreme changes, explains MyHealthMath Chief Mission Officer and physician, Elizabeth Coté, MD, MPH. “Resiliency can help people get through this difficult period and come out stronger on the other side. But we can’t expect people to do this alone…”

“Companies have an obligation to help their employees cultivate resiliency. In doing so, they can create a stronger workforce now and in the future.”

Building a resilient workforce is not a new idea. Numerous studies show that resilient employees can better withstand stress, overcome work challenges, and build stronger relationships with their colleagues. These skills are even more important during this tumultuous time.

However, companies can’t expect to build resiliency by following their old playbook. In this mid-pandemic world, the rules have changed. Companies need to reconsider their approach to cultivating employee resiliency and adopt a new set of strategies. Below, Dr. Coté shares what this might look like:

Change your timeline

“It can be tempting to only focus on the near term because the future is so uncertain right now,” says Coté. “But this can backfire on companies since everything in the near-term is unstable and tinged with negative bias. Help people stay optimistic by looking at the long-term, seeing how the ‘now’ will strengthen your company in the future, and start planning for what will happen next.”

Focusing on the future requires shifting your company’s timeline. Instead of only thinking about typical year-end or quarterly goals, identify goals that will support internal growth and capacity further down the line. Then, adjust your metrics. For example, along with measures like productivity and quarterly outcomes, which are immediate or even retrospective, consider measures like:

  • Your ability to anticipate and recognize threats
  • How well your workforce is staffed to support flexibility and redundancy
  • Whether you built a diverse workforce with different cultures, perspectives, and skills, which will boost creative problems solving and buttress organizational structure

By tracking these alternate measures, you can experience success even amid losses that are beyond your control. And you can share those wins with all employees, creating a feeling of optimism that builds workforce resiliency.

Build Stability

In these uncertain times, so much is outside of everyone’s control. Companies can provide needed stability simply by maintaining and improving their organizational hygiene—the basic organizational structures and culture that employees expect. Some things to consider include:

  • Maintaining regular all-staff or all team meetings and ensuring that leadership shows up on time
  • Providing predictable IT support, especially given increased remote staff
  • Maintaining one-on-one meetings with direct reports, and being fully present (no multitasking) during them
  • Providing clarity of roles, so employees know what is expected of them
  • Having policies in place that support work-life balance, especially for those working remotely

Remember that in the face of crisis, it can be easy to go into panic mode and try to solve everything at once, says Coté. “But rushing tends to make people feel insecure and unstable—neither of which supports resiliency. Instead, you need to slow things down and take the time to stabilize your employees. Later, with a sense of stability in place, speeding back up will go more smoothly.”

Encourage compassion

Studies show that compassion—for yourself and for others—is key to resiliency. By creating a compassionate culture, companies can help employees become more resilient. Managers build this culture by showing genuine interest in their reports, asking them how they are coping with the pandemic, and helping them navigate potential barriers. Take time for group discussions as well, so people can emphasize with one another and remember they’re not alone in this.

Similarly, create a cultural norm around gratitude, which is closely linked to compassion. When people feel taken for granted, they’re less likely to be feel compassion for those around them. Managers can remove this barrier by regularly thanking their colleagues and acknowledging the contributions. This is especially important for remote workers who may be more apt to feel their efforts go unnoticed.

Help employees understand their benefits

More than ever, employees need the web of support that employee benefits provide. By highlighting these benefits, you can help employees feel safe and supported despite the changing world around them. This feeling builds workforce resiliency.

Spread the word about your benefits through various digital mediums, including email, webinars, and your company intranet. Consider creating topic-based campaigns that highlight benefits that are really relevant right now, such as leave policies, telehealth, and mental health services. During open enrollment, work with a health plan decision support partner to help employees choose the best plan for their needs and budget. By helping your employees protect their health and budget, you’ll give them control despite the surrounding uncertainty.

Be transparent about potential loss

“Bad news is bad news, and there’s no way to get around that. But if you’re honest with your team, you can prepare them for what might be coming. If they’re prepared, bad news becomes a lot more manageable,” says Coté.

For example, share your plan for addressing financial challenges with employees—even if that plan involves layoffs. A well-known company had to lay off a large percentage of its staff because of COVID-19. The company told employees about the layoffs well-before they would go into effect and connected employees with job-transition resources. This gave employees time to begin their job hunt while still employed. It also built trust among the remaining employees; they knew this company would be honest with them and, if the worst happened, do everything they could to ease their transition.

“The most powerful thing we can do in the face of uncertainty, fear and loss is consider and choose our response,” says Coté. “Within this challenging time, there is also the opportunity for transformation and growth. If you focus your mind and your team on a positive horizon, and actively foster the super-team traits of trust and compassion—strengths that do not fluctuate with markets or pandemic curves—you will endure, and likely thrive, when these times have passed.”

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