These are unprecedented times. How often have you read this line in the past few months? Many, I expect.
And of course, it’s true. Health systems around the world have been put under enormous pressure over the past year in ways we have never seen. The Global economy continues to spiral again to levels never before witnessed by most of us.
But something else is happening. As this health and economic crisis grabs us, we have started to see truly good and decent people making their way forward and taking a well deserved bow of recognition. I’m not referring to frontline or Healthcare workers here, because they are deserving of whole books of gratitude for the truly selfless work that they continue to do.
I’m referring to CEO’s (and managers) who are stumbling and struggling through this crisis. I’m also referring to their employees. Because right now, whether either party is prepared to admit it, this relationship is more tightly linked than it ever was before. As we look around at global leaders and how they are supporting their people, we are not short of examples of those getting it right, those getting it very wrong and those genuinely trying their best. Because this is a time where nobody actually knows the ‘right’ thing to do.
People have championed Angela Merkel in Germany and Jacinta Ardern in New Zealand for their approach to this pandemic. Many have asked if it’s because females tend to have more empathy. I’m not so sure about that. They should be congratulated for doing a great job. Not because they are women doing a great job.
But I digress. I wanted to talk about leadership a little closer to home. Over this past few weeks, I have watched CEO’s and business owners closing their doors and laying off staff. There may have been the few that have seen it as a great excuse to make cuts, but I believe that this is a small minority. Most have done what they have had to do, in order to ensure the basic survival of the business. As soon as things improve, we hope that they will slowly take back on the staff that they had to lose.
Because, everyone understands that this is something beyond the control of most businesses. It isn’t that they over-invested, or made bad business decisions. This is something they simply didn’t see coming.
But it’s how they have been dealing with it that interests me. How many CEO’s have made a personal phonecall to their employees since this started? And I’m not talking about a Zoom session. I’m talking about a call to ask them how they are doing and if they are they managing okay? My feeling is that it is very few. Many will assume that, because this is a global issue and we are all in the same boat, that everyone simply accepts the situation and is getting on with it. Which, for the most part, is true. But many people are struggling. Not just financially, but with anxiety and stress about the uncertainly of their future.
Of course, there are many CEO’s that have gone over and beyond to support their staff. We know this. We also know that they too, are struggling with this harsh, new challenge of trying to survive. This needs to be a time of decency and understanding towards each other.
Business owners and managers need to be leaders now, as well as bosses. They need to show appreciation to employees, by giving them that extra bit of support, emotionally and socially. People will respond in ways that will surprise you. A few kind words of thanks, or a message asking how they are doing will not go unnoticed or unappreciated now. Because, as soon as this crisis is over, you will want them back, ready to fight for you and your business. I truly believe that those demonstrating empathy towards employees will be rewarded twice over as things return to ‘normal’.
Remember, this is not an economic crisis that we have seen before. It is not the same as the recession of 2008 and economists do not know what this recovery will look like. We will all need to be ready to take our places again as soon as we get the nod. As employers, we will need fast and unwavering support from our employees to hit the ground running to get our businesses back on the road. As employees, we will remember how we were treated and whether or not this is an organisation we want to be part of.
So, during this time, please realise that support goes two ways.
Good and decent people will always be good and decent and we hope that your employer remembers that too.