In June of 1833, the Atlantic Journal published, “The world is too big a place for us, too much is going on…Everything is high pressure. Human nature can’t endure much more.” Imagine, in 1833 people felt that the pace of change was a lot to manage. Now, we are changing at warp speed. I believe it’s time to stop talking about change as a disruption and start talking about it as a path for solving our biggest challenges. 
 
In 2020 we’ve been hit with exponential change. Businesses were already undergoing major transformations such as going digital and moving to the cloud. Then a global pandemic struck, forcing businesses to overnight change their business models, adopt a virtual workforce and lead from afar.  
 
No matter what the change—or the challenge—successfully navigating it comes back to how human beings respond. Leaders must create the space for people to be resilient amid the change. This will require addressing people’s physical, mental and relational needs.  

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We conducted global research with the World Economic Forum, asking more than 20,000 people about responsible leadership. We found that emotion and intuition (being truly human and compassionate) and mission and purpose (inspiring a shared vision) are essential elements of responsible leadership. These factors build and earn trust, and they enable workers to be more resilient amid change.  

Toward resilience

Your workforce wants to trust its leadership. It will if it believes you care for each individual, their community and humanity as a whole. Sounds like a lot to accomplish, right? It’s not so overwhelming when you focus on the core needs that help build human resilience.  

Physical needs  

Supporting physical needs is much more than simple ergonomics. At the most basic level, employees need to feel they work in an environment that is secure and safe. And beyond safety, how is leadership supporting employees’ well-being?  

In the current era (the digital workplace environment), supporting physical needs shows up in organizational policies and programs. Take flexible work arrangement policies. Many of us have been working remotely or from home for years, while others have needed to go to the office every day. What are the implications as we look at policies that govern where and when people work?  If an organization fails to fundamentally rethink its workplace policies, they risk a significant portion of their employees feeling ‘unsafe.’ 

Demonstrate how you will be agile as an organization and adopt policies to support the evolving needs of employees. For instance, if school closures continue and kids are home, extend daycare benefit programs, offering more days of coverage or increasing the percentage the company will pay for. Adapting policies to human needs will build good will among employees. 

Mental needs  
 
People can build psychological resilience when they feel they are given permission to work in ways that allow them to be productive. What that looks like will be different for every individual employee. Especially now as some are disrupted by childcare constraints or perhaps have faced healthcare issues. What do these individuals need to do their jobs to the best of their ability – and feel confident to ask the company for more help? 

Leaders at all levels should communicate early and often, consistently and clearly about what they are doing to support productivity and mental health. Without clear and continuous communication, employees will create their own versions of the truth, which can cause fear and confusion, thus affecting mental health.  

Because of the pandemic, the work being done within businesses has changed. Are there tasks that are no longer needed? Relieve people from unnecessary work and activities to reduce preventable stress. Conduct a scenario test to ensure you understand the potential impact to workers and business continuity.  

Tell employees that you are removing friction deliberately because you care about them. This demonstrates empathy and shows support for their well-being. Some retailers today are taking bold action to support mental health, offering free therapy to minimize the stress on workers during this difficult time in our world.  

Relationship needs  
 
Workers want to feel a connection to the company’s mission and purpose. This will foster a sense of belonging and it will empower them to support the mission themselves. As the world opens up and people have more choices about where they work, it is more important than ever to have your business’ purpose and values shine through so that people want to be part of it.  
 
Maybe not every employee understands your mission. Make it known. Integrate your company’s purpose and values into every communication and initiative. People won’t respond to pre-packaged PR statements. Be authentic, not scripted. Use language that is positive, empathetic and emotionally supportive. 
 
Perhaps most important, don’t just assume what you are saying is resonating. Regularly analyze employee sentiment to spot opportunities to strengthen communications by making them clear and meaningful. Perhaps even consider the medium. People are inundated with emails and meetings. Try another approach, such as video, to connect is a more personable way; or internal social media platforms that mimic the way many people stay connected with their loved ones in their personal life. 

Lead the way

Responsible leaders cultivate human resilience. But it won’t happen on its own. Leaders in your organization must actively strive to meet the physical, mental and relationship needs of people. This takes work. Educate and coach leaders on how they can become more responsible, using their words and actions to help employees feel safe, inspired and empowered in their jobs. These actions build a foundation of trust that will make positive change possible today, and for years to come.  

Randy Wandmacher

Managing Director – Talent & Organization / Human Potential

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