COVID: The forgotten that keep the country working

 

Articles written about the future of work are commonly from an employee perspective, but what about the employers, senior managers & HR professionals? Alison Gill, who heads up the advo hr and Sagegreen HR teams looks at how senior management have been at the forefront of the lockdown and fight against COVID.

“We have said goodbye to 2020 and have lived through a tidal wave of change. Businesses have navigated their way through the challenges of home working, making the workplace COVID secure, understanding and communicating everchanging government guidance and the implementation of the newly learn, and now familiar furlough scheme.

2021 is undoubtedly going to bring more unexpected changes, that may hurtle across the horizon. During this year, businesses will still be figuring out how to hold on until the time, when the earth pivots back onto a more straightened axis.

Articles written about the future of work are commonly from an employee perspective and the value that employees place upon employers to show strong leadership skills in a crisis. Businesses care about their employees and guidance is widely available to signpost employees towards mental health support.

However, little is commented on about the wellbeing of employers. The senior leaders who have the onus keeping businesses afloat during these troubled waters and the heavy responsibility on their shoulders of retaining all of their staff.

Business leaders and HR professionals are commercial and appreciate business decisions but the effects of the challenges off 2020 and the blurring of the work / home life balance, the pressure of heavy workload and weight of responsibility may already be taking its toll on mental health.

Some may also believe that, by the very nature of their senior role, they have to be seen as invincible and any indication that they are upset or struggling, may be perceived as a sign of weakness.

Senior managers may live alone or there may be concerns within their home or personal life and they may not wish to add to these by discussing with loved ones, the way they feel about issues at work.

There is release valve may therefore be limited!

Discussing problematic issues or bouncing ideas around with colleagues and saying how one feels over Teams may not feel easy. Certainly, the opportunity of expressing feelings in the less formal environment of a casual chat over a coffee or over a drink in the pub after work are a distant memory.

Looking forward into the fog of an uncertain future, there may still be many difficult and potentially emotionally punishing challenges ahead to be navigated.

 

“There is often very little, or no consideration afforded to those senior managers of HR professionals sitting across the table, delivering the unwelcome news about redundancy to their teams”

A study published by ACAS on 1 October 2020 stated that 37% of businesses were planning on making redundancies in the coming three months.

Such decisions may have now been put into abeyance as a result of the extension of the furlough scheme and other business loans and initiatives, but some employers may have no choice other than to make redundancies.

The impact on those made redundant is widely published and it is widely acknowledged redundancy can be desperate. Most business will do all they can to support those redundant employees with range of practical interventions such as outplacement mechanisms, referrals to other businesses, additional financial help and employee assistance programmes .

However, there is often very little, or no consideration afforded to those senior managers of HR professionals sitting across the table, delivering the unwelcome news about redundancy to their teams. It is invariably just seen as part of the job.

The CIPD considered this aspect of making redundancies and detailed their findings in a report published in 2020 titled ‘Don’t shoot the messenger: The enigmatic impact of conveying bad news during redundancy situations and how to limit the impact’. https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/psychological-impact-redundancies_tcm18-76926.pdf

This report details the psychological effect on business leaders and HR professionals and details such quotes as this director, who stated:

“There were lots of emotions involved in the redundancies at the company. We dealt with shock, horror, anger and then acceptance. It upset me. It was a very stressful situation. I could not sleep at night and I had to go to a doctor and get medication. It was very stressful and too harsh on my soul.”

Another HR director shared his account, where he stated: “I suffered and developed acute stress from implementing redundancies. I had to get help from a psychologist”.

One redundancy envoy, an HR business partner, felt targeted by angry employees, which made his life inside and outside of work so uncomfortable that he felt he had to resign from his job and move to another town to get away from the situation.

The redundancy process can place those making the redundancies in a psychological dichotomy. They understand and appreciate that business decisions have to be made but they will have become close to and truly care about the team. They may therefore encounter a myriad of personal feelings from genuinely being upset to feelings of guilt.

I know from a personal point of view, despite extensive preparation, that telling employee after employee, in large or small scale redundancies, that their role is no longer required is so difficult. Regardless of knowing and agreeing with all the business reasons, being met with anger, tears and despair and comments such as ‘How will I feed my children?’ can be heart-breaking. Whatever is said and however sympathetically it is presented, employees may often feel that the decision is personal and point the finger saying that this devastating life changing event is all their fault and they should have done more to prevent this outcome.

The aforementioned CIPD study concludes that businesses should have an appreciation of the negative impact and emotional rollercoaster that redundancy envoys experience.

In these unprecedented times and with the increased volume of work and change management exercise, it has never been so important to consider the wellbeing of all of your employees.

Whether that is you as the business leader, the senior leadership around you or the HR manager. They are all employees, they have emotions, they are not infallible and may be struggling too!

These senior business leaders are also the ones who will help you drive your business forward and will keep you team motivated and productive in the future.

2021 should be the year to provide support and help to everyone. This may be achieved by a change in approach, encouragement to talk openly about worries or concerns without reproach or the opportunity to use any Employee Assistance Programme.

The dawn of this New Year should be greeted with the acceptance that it is tough out there but the heartfelt philosophy to be kind not to only others and their teams but also to themselves.”

 

 

Alison Gill heads up the advo hr & Sagegreen HR teams and is a Chartered Member of the Institute of Personnel and Development and has worked in senior positions within the HR profession for over 25 years. Her broad range of experience has been gained working both in-house for large corporations and SME’s and as an external consultant advising a myriad of businesses in a wide range of industries. Alison’s thorough and extensive knowledge of employment law enables her to bring the rule book to life and support businesses in solving complex employee relations issues.

advohr@advogroup.co.uk

 
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