4 Things Employees Need from Leadership to Support Their Wellbeing

Significant risks that can keep organizations from developing thriving cultures — and other organizational threats — become magnified during societal and global crises.

This was especially true in 2020. Employees’ compounding uncertainty about COVID-19, a failing economy, joblessness, school closings, disrupted workplaces, social isolation and societal unrest made it the worst time most people have ever experienced.

So how do you lead and inspire employees during a crisis or major disruption? According to WELLBEING AT WORK: How to Build Resilient and Thriving Teams, by Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup and Jim Harter, Ph.D., Chief Workplace Scientist, employees need four things from leaders during a crisis.

1. Hope

In times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can take: fear, helplessness and victimization — or self-actualization and engagement.

Hope starts with leadership communicating a clear plan of action in response to the crisis.

In 2020, 40% to 90% of employees in Gallup’s global database strongly agreed that their leadership communicated a clear plan of action.

People need to be able to see how their work affects your customers, mission and purpose, and the future of your organization. Human beings are amazingly resilient. When leaders have a clear way forward, there is a documented “rally effect.”

One thing is clear. Employees look to leadership for a crisis management plan — and to give them confidence that there is a way forward.

2. Stability

As people adapt to disruptions, they return to basic needs. They need to feel prepared to do their work.

Across organizations globally, 30% to 80% of employees reported feeling strongly that they are well-prepared to do their work.

During high-stress times and crises, managers need to go back to the basics of clarifying expectations, reviewing material and equipment needs, and readjusting roles so that people can use their strengths in new ways.

Employees need managers who reset priorities, involve them in reestablishing their goals and constantly clarify their role relative to their coworkers’ roles. Ongoing discussions about what resources employees need to get work done are vital to minimize stress and build resiliency.

3. Trust

In any crisis, when people are not getting timely information — no matter how negative — they start believing that someone is hiding something from them. Trust erodes, and self-preservation takes over. Stress, fear and anger emerge.

Supervisors or managers are the key conduits who are responsible for translating the organization’s response to a crisis for each employee. And only direct managers truly can know each employee’s situation, keep them informed and adjust expectations accordingly.

During 2020, about 40% to 90% of employees strongly agreed that their supervisor keeps them informed.

It takes highly engaged and talented managers to keep employees updated during a crisis and to connect their team with other teams in the organization to maximize resiliency. Resilient and thriving organizations have a plan for how they will continuously identify and develop the best managers. They know that a crisis requires a coach more than a boss.

4. Compassion

Before the novel coronavirus outbreak, work and life were more blended than ever before. Then suddenly in March 2020, millions of people were required to work from home — including kids being kept home from school. The blending of work and life became unbearable for many. It created unprecedented stress on mental health and wellbeing.

At the outset of the pandemic, less than half of U.S. employees (45%) strongly agreed that their organization cares about their overall wellbeing. Globally, 30% to nearly 90% of employees strongly agreed that their organization cares about their wellbeing.

In organizations that care about employee wellbeing, managers are in tune with each individual’s situation, and they can direct employees to personalized resources that improve their wellbeing during the crisis.

Leading and inspiring employees through a crisis — and building organizational resilience — involves understanding fundamentals of human nature that are often overlooked.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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