Toxic Fallout: The Culture Cracks Appearing Post-Covid
It may feel like we’re emerging from the darkness that descended during lockdown here in the UK, but it seems that the ripple effects of covid-19 are now fully taking place.
You don’t have to watch the news to know that the pandemic has turned lives and businesses upside down. And for those who didn’t have a strong culture pre-covid, the gaps that were once there are now gaping holes – especially as businesses can no longer rely on the plaster perks of the office games console or the free lunch Friday.
Gone are the days when you could gather everyone together to make it feel like you had a culture to shout about, now that the rumbles are here, people no longer want half-hearted gestures.
To prepare your business to move forward and ensure your company culture weathers the storm, I’ve revealed the biggest challenges businesses are facing post-covid, and how to manage the fallout.
Challenge 1 - Redundancies
According to reports from The Guardian on Tuesday 11th August 2020, so far 175,134 people have been made redundant in the UK. The biggest hit sectors include hospitality, retail and aviation.
Redundancies were unfortunately expected, but this doesn’t ease the pain they can cause to your business or your company culture.
Despite redundancies often being necessary and required, these negative experiences can cause severe problems in your culture if not handled well.
A drop in productivity and team morale
Once redundancies are executed, it quickly becomes the elephant in the room if it isn’t addressed. People talk, people overthink, and gossip runs rampant.
Even your ‘safe’ staff are going to feel vulnerable and at risk.
This can lead to a drop in productivity and team morale. Making people wonder what’s the point if they’re going to lose their jobs anyway.
Already disengaged team members are going to become critically disengaged, meaning as well as redundancies you could also see a spike in exits in a few months’ time as people job hop for job security.
As Michelle Riklan wrote for Huffington Post, ‘layoff survivors are often not sure why they made it while their peers didn’t. Sure, they have an inkling; a good performance, a not-so-expensive paycheck and tenure come to mind.
But these are nothing but speculations, and until you confirm them, layoff survivors will continue fearing for their future in the company.’
Workload may increase
With redundancies often comes the inevitable increase in everyone’s workload. You may drop people, but that doesn’t mean the work stops. Someone has to pick up the slack somewhere, and more often than not, it is those left behind who are thrust into picking up the pieces.
An increase in workload means people are going to get frustrated. Especially as they may be taking on extra work or responsibilities with no chance of a pay increase. And to top it off they still only have the same amount of hours in the day.
As awkward and damaging as redundancies can be for company culture, there is a solution to overcoming the pain they can cause. But it takes a leader who is willing to hold themselves accountable and lead by example.
One of the biggest worries for the people left behind is why they were chosen in the first place?
Is it because they were cheap labour?
As detailed in Michelle Riklans quote, the survivors want to know why they are safe; otherwise, the very worst assumptions begin to tick over in their minds creating a negative belief system.
As difficult as it may be to stomach, you have to be transparent with your team about why they remain. You need to make them understand their value, and ensure they are confident and positive about why they have been chosen to remain.
Admittedly, this isn’t for a faint-hearted leader. But ignore the growing rumours of why people remain, and you will only begin to generate a toxic culture that will continue to eat away at team morale and productivity. Better to face the music than to stick your head in the sand.
Coach Don’t Command
If you notice productivity has dropped post redundancy, then it’s essential that you speak to your team members about why this may be, and how they are feeling about the situation.
The adage of ‘keep calm and carry on’ no longer works in company culture, and instead, people need support and empathy in a time of crisis.
Rather than condemn your team, or command them to ‘get over it’, as a leader, you must take on the role of a coach. Getting to understand your teams biggest fears and supporting them through it. Ask them how you can help, or what can be done to give them greater confidence in the future of the business?
Outright ignoring the human need of your team only shows a lack of compassion and will only lead to greater losses for you later on down the road.
Redeploy to Reduce Overwork
When the tsunami of leftover work erupts post redundancy, there is a high risk of burnout among the remaining team.
In order to reduce the stress and overwork of teams take this opportunity to assess projects, tasks and overall workloads.
Are some of these tasks or roles even needed?
Is anyone in the team happy to change roles or take on responsibilities?
Work with your remaining team members to get a handle on the workload, rather than dictate what needs to be done.
Don’t forget that your team are on the ground day to day, and understand your business and the needs of your customers, so they will be able to give greater insight and support rather than you doing it alone.
Challenge 2 - Furloughed vs. Overworked
The pandemic has been a unique experience for all of us. In contrast, some people have loved having a chance to reflect and pause on life during furlough, with many referencing it as the ‘great reset’. This hasn’t been the experience for everyone.
In fact, for many, it has been a ‘coronacoaster’. Attempting to homeschool children while continuing to work. Managing mental ill-health while being isolated and confined. And we must not forget that people have lost loved ones.
Not everyone has experienced covid-19 in the same way. And this goes for those in the workplace.
Some of your team may have been on furlough for four or five months. Feeling disconnected from their role and the team. At the same time, others have been overworking to make-up for those who have been relieved of their duties.
The key issue here is the difference in experiences which can lead to a “them and us culture.”
The remaining people working through covid feel like everyone on furlough has had a jolly long holiday relaxing in their garden.
But on the flipside – furloughed staff have felt lost, vulnerable and fearful that they may not even have a job at the end of the scheme.
For either party, it hasn’t been a bed of roses. But it’s easy for either party to assume that one has had it better than the other.
The trouble occurs in a company culture when you try to bring these two groups back together. It’s easy for off-hand remarks to be made, and soon there is a divide in the office that is creating an air of bitterness.
With this distinct lack of understanding and compassion on both sides, it can eventually lead to poor communication and a break down in team collaboration.
In order to get people working as a team again in your company culture, you need to clear the air and kick off a fresh start.
Before getting back into the work and office life, bring your people together and get them to share their experiences. There is so much to learn from each other, and it will open everyone’s eyes that it’s not been quite as perfect for either side.
By listening to the reality of each experience, and how it has been felt differently, people will be able to broaden their minds on how differently the pandemic has affected them. This can also provide vital insight for the team as to how things could be done differently if this situation was to happen again.
Another way to get people’s headspace back into work on the future of the business is to take part in a joint experience.
Whether you engage your team in a company culture workshop where they feel they can all contribute and reset the culture together, or planning for the future of the business. Come back on common ground and find a topic that the team can work on together.
Challenge 3 - Forcing People Back to Work
Unfortunately, you are in your legal right to request all team members to come back into the office, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.
According to Forrester, 41% of employees are now afraid to go to work, still fearful that they are being put at unreasonable risk.
Many organisations around the world have already instructed employees to remain working from home until 2021. Of course, this isn’t easy for every industry or business, as for some home working is simply not possible due to their operations. But having a complete lack of consideration for your employee’s wellbeing will not enable you to weather this storm without some major culture damage.
People should be considered with as much empathy as possible, and if there is an operational capability for home working or flexible working, this should be provided as an option to those concerned about coming back to work.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard too many business owners in their outdated mindset that these people are using it as an ‘excuse’. To them, we wonder what made them distrust their employees so harshly in the first place.
We must not forget that here in the UK this virus has not disappeared.
Our work and home lives have been changed irrevocably. Seeing a space that once felt safe and familiar, now changed with processes and strict cleaning procedures can stir anxiety for many people. It’s unfair to think this won’t have some mental impact on your team. Especially those who are already vulnerable.
There is also the fact that while for the individual it may be ‘safe’ for them to come back into the office, but what about those they live with or care for? Is it fair to force people to come back into the office unnecessarily, when they may have loved ones at home who are still a high risk?
The onus is on business leaders to act how they see fit, and whatever the choice the may be it will be remembered for good or bad. So I would recommend choosing your options mindfully.
If you don’t want to lose the trust and respect of your team, I highly recommend that you take each individuals case into consideration.
By all means, there are many people who can’t wait to get back to the office and away from their four-walls that have held them captive for months on end. It’s safe to say a bit of ‘normality’ is craved, and there is the simple fact that not all of us work well from home and need that office space to foster our creativity and focus.
Don’t be forceful with your team about them returning into an office environment, and discuss with them what would make them feel more comfortable. Again, it should be a conversation, not an order.