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Article: Maintaining employee relations during the pandemic period

The ways in which we interconnect, behave and communicate at work have been fundamentally altered since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the early part of last year.  

Our relationships with colleagues have, in many cases, gone virtual – a move which has, as I’m sure you are aware, both presented considerable challenges and uncovered unexpected opportunities and benefits.   

But although the pandemic has created an unprecedented level and scale of change in terms of working relationships, the nature of our employee to employee interactions has always been subject to evolution and flux which depend on a range of environmental factors.

This forms the basis of the fifth key element in Nature of Work by Paul Miller and Shimrit Janes, who connect workplace relationships to those which define the workings of the natural world.

"The world of work as a living system teems with the same networks as nature. They’ve always been at the heart of how work gets done, through the movement and use of resources, sharing of expertise, competition and collaboration. However, the health of those different types of relationship has varied over time, depending on who – and what – is and isn’t valued, and who does and doesn’t have power."

— Paul Miller and Shimrit Janes, Nature of Work: The New Story of Work for a Living Age

 

Leadership consultant Chris Mumford, of Cervus Leadership Consulting, also finds value in linking the natural and working world in this way.

 

“A positive employer-employee relationship is one of mutual interdependency. It is helpful to think of the dynamic as being similar to that between a forest and its trees. The forest, i.e. the organisation, provides the overarching environment, habitat, purpose and culture which supports the wellbeing and growth of the trees within it. In turn, each tree contributes to the network and collaborates with other trees to foster the community that ultimately allows the forest to grow and flourish.”

— Chris Mumford, Founder, Cervus Leadership Consulting

 

Rapid response

Just as forests can be subject to sudden and dramatic fluxes as a result of extreme climatic events, workplaces across the world have been turned on their heads because of the pandemic.  

Admittedly, gradual shifts towards teleworking models were already in progress due to various enabling technologies becoming more mainstream over the past decade, but few could know of the extent of upheaval that came in March 2020.  

How can I uphold my duty of care to employees? How can I maintain positive relations between everyone in the team? These questions had to be answered quickly and, according to Mumford, for the most part they were.  

Increased communication frequency, transparency and deliberateness; heightened health and safety alertness; innovative ways to stay remotely connected and engaged – these are all ways in which companies have been able to keep workplace relationships intact amid a very testing backdrop. Those that have not been so consciously proactive may be experiencing lower levels of employee loyalty, more burned-out staff and higher turnover.

 

“A major lesson from the past 18 months has been the need for visible leadership, in which leaders are able to communicate hope and inspiration in times of great uncertainty while also being authentic and open in their messaging. Telling it like it is while also keeping teams motivated around an organisation’s purpose and future opportunity. Another lesson has been in how to manage uncertainty – continuous scenario planning that provides the foundation from which to pivot and move quickly in a new direction.”

— Chris Mumford, Founder, Cervus Leadership Consulting

 

Crucially, leaders also need to be aware that the pandemic has not treated everybody the same.  

Some have coped with societal restrictions and changing workplace dynamics better than others, and those leaders which are able to acknowledge and act on this are more likely to maintain harmonious employee relationships moving forwards, especially in regard to mental health.

 

“Every employee’s experience and situation is different, and leaders need to engage one-on-one with each of their team to understand the specifics of what that individual needs. It is intensive in terms of time and resources, but a blanket approach to employee relations that does not recognise the individual will be far less impactful. In instances where team members have been apart from one another for months on end, the need to provide people with an opportunity to get back face-to-face with one another is imperative if relationships are to be maintained.”

— Chris Mumford, Founder, Cervus Leadership Consulting

 

How have you been able to maintain employee relations during the pandemic period? This, among many other critical themes, will be discussed at the Nature of Work Festival in September.  

 

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