Decades ago, organizations had a “cradle to grave” model. People often began and concluded their career at the same company, and it was the business’ responsibility to provide what that person needed throughout the journey. Fast forward and the trend switched to a “manage yourself” model. Employees were expected to care for their own needs. Now the pendulum is swinging back.

Though people may not work for the same business cradle to grave, there now is a notion that it is an employer’s duty to help their people and treat them with care and respect while they are employed there. This type of responsible leadership is more important than ever in the COVID-19 world. Showing employees that you are care about them will build trust at a time when that bond is absolutely essential.

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Suit their space

As people return to work, some employees will be in the office, others will continue working in a home environment. Accenture’s global research indicates that 35% of employees plan to work from home at least 1-2 times per week until the pandemic is over. Some will be working in a hybrid model, but 20% of people are uncomfortable with the idea of returning to the workplace within the next six months. How can businesses ease that transition and help people to feel safe?

It’s important for businesses to consider the day to day for those returning to the office. For instance, is it possible to get the entire workforce into the office on schedule if only 2-4 people can be in an elevator at the same time? Perhaps the business does not need less real estate, it needs different real estate that will allow for social distancing, but still provide spaces for safe collaboration. Employees are hungry to work together and innovate. More than 60% of the people Accenture surveyed globally miss the social interaction from work.

People working from home may face a variety of challenges, whether living with an elderly parent or trying to homeschool young children while still working full-time hours. Maybe an employee is working in a small space and feeling claustrophobic. Perhaps juggling commitments at home has become stressful. Responsible leaders will reconsider such an employee’s workload and possibly reduce current demands.

Make caring for people a priority

Every business has a purpose. What if caring about the workforce became a well-known part of that purpose? One of the core values at Accenture is stewardship. People working on projects would lead their clients to a better place—perhaps also put their career and life in a better place. When the organization refreshed its values, it became apparent that stewardship goes well beyond those confines. Corporate stewardship is about making the world a better place. It’s about sustainability. It’s about making a difference in communities. With this broader goal in mind, Accenture reframed the role of stewardship.

Businesses can reflect their commitment to employees in their purpose. Research shows that brands that are committed to a strong purpose are thriving. Accenture Strategy’s Global Consumer Pulse Survey 2019 revealed that 65% of consumers want businesses to take a stand on issues that are close to their heart. Companies that demonstrate values and authenticity outperform the market by five to seven percent. The positive effects of purpose touch employees as well. People who work for a company with a strong purpose are more productive and feel more satisfied.

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Foster greater work/life balance through boundaries

Working from home has become working around the clock for many. This is not sustainable. People need to feel their well-being is important. That requires responsible leadership demonstrating that it is OK to have boundaries—it’s actually a good thing. For starters, make it clear that people are encouraged to take time off. Employees need to recharge their batteries, and this means unplugging.

Allow people to engage in social activities as part of the workday. For instance, mandate that three times a week, lunch time is down time. Block meetings from 12-1 in the local geography. People might even use the time to have a Zoom lunch with colleagues. Establish healthy habits such as starting every meeting with a standing stretch. When employees see leaders participate in these activities, they will believe that health and wellness are respected and looked after within the organization.

How will you respond?

COVID-19 has changed work as we know it. But it doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect. Forward-looking companies will view this as an opportunity to do better for employees. It will make them want to do better for you. Make their well-being a priority. Look at work situations individually and make accommodations that help people to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Demonstrate your commitment to work/life balance. And if you’re really serious, codify these new approaches by making them part of your workplace policies. Let’s make work better for everyone.

 

Yaarit Silverstone

Senior Managing Director, Talent & Organization/Human Potential, Global Strategy Lead & North America Lead

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