It’s Okay It’s Not Okay: How to Build Employee Empowerment in 2020

/ Christine Andrukonis

How many times have you asked—or been asked—’how are you holding up?’ It’s an easy go-to question that’s equal parts professional and personal, but all too often, we instinctively say ‘I’m fine!’ without thinking twice. In reality, many of us are not ‘okay.’ When it comes to employee empowerment, you need to allow yourself and your staff to accept that times are tough, business is different, and our productivity levels are bound to ebb and flow.

The past few months have been undeniably hard whether we’ve been sick or nervous about getting sick, lonely from isolation, or overwhelmed with work and life responsibilities. And although things are starting to look up as states explore reopening plans, it’s not practical to expect a 24/7 sunny attitude.

As we head into the summer, many professionals still have mixed feelings—and let’s be honest, a bit of anxiety— about the second half of 2020. That’s why leaders should carve out time for self-reflection and make time to answer tough questions to guide business decisions. What will remain with us from this COVID-19 experience, both good and bad? And how can we plan for the rest of 2020, a future in which we are sometimes ‘okay’—and perhaps even thriving as people, professionals, and as organizations?

Here’s how to be okay with not being okay—and build employee empowerment for the second half of the year:

Revise your goals and expectations.

When we toasted to a new lap around the sun on January 1, 2020, no one could have predicted the curveball everyone would be thrown a few weeks later. The pandemic has created a ripple effect throughout all industries, and continuing as ‘status quo’ is not only impractical but ineffective. So if you haven’t already gone back to the drawing board to reimagine your goals and expectations as an individual, as a leader and for your company, here is your gentle reminder.

When you consider how to revise your goals, think about:

  • The state of your industry. Analyze all available data to understand projections for the next year or so, as they relate to COVID-19.
  • The state of your staff. How are the managers at every level doing? What about the new hires? How have your recruiting efforts been going? Having a pulse on overall morale will help you understand how to motivate all team members best.
  • The state of yourself. As the saying goes, put on your own oxygen mask first, then assist others. Understanding your mental state is essential. Be honest about what you’re struggling with—Parenting? Staying positive?—so you can determine the best way to care for your own needs.

Once you analyze these three areas, you will have a more holistic view of the landscape in which you’ll need to revise your goals. We can’t ignore the world around us, but we can start to take baby steps toward progress in what many are calling the ‘next’ normal.

Identify what’s needed to meet your aspirations.

Now that you have a revised framework in mind, it’s time to identify what changes are necessary to meet your goals. Remember: what you required pre-pandemic likely isn’t what’s essential now. In addition to addressing what will help you succeed, encourage managers to connect with their teams to find a pulse on items you may miss.

You may want to address:

  • Working habits and practices. Ask employees about their experience: What have they learned while working remotely? What practices will they keep, what can the company do more of? What keeps them motivated and excited, and what is dragging them down? Are employees feeling meeting fatigue? Do “working hours” need to be adjusted?
  • Relationships. How are teams’ interpersonal relationships faring in the current environment, and why? What relationship-building activities would make everyone more productive and effective?
  • Resources and training. Are there other work-from-home materials that you could be providing? Are there trainings that you skipped because you were virtual, but the team needs? What about educational courses to improve skills?
  • Inspiration and team-building. Does your company still have… fun? Are you giving the team the extra space they may need to disconnect? What about the activities that support social and emotional well-being, like remote wine tastings and yoga classes?
  • Personal support. Employee empowerment means assessing the needs of your staff as individuals. Working parents may be seeking out childcare options, while single people may need more social opportunities. How can leaders meet these needs?

Adjust your time frames.

Before COVID-19 forced everyone to think quickly on their toes, we could make plans for three, six and even 12 months out. Now though? It’s near impossible to plan for more than four to eight weeks. Repeat after us: that’s okay! Rather than putting pressure on yourself, the business and your staff, adjust your time frames. While you can still have a long-term vision, your goals and deliverables should be shorter-term, since we can’t predict what will happen across the country and the world.

Find small delights for yourself—and your teams.

Part of recognizing that everyone struggles in some way with the pandemic is finding small, yet meaningful surprises to keep our mood steady. This means reserving time on your overpacked calendar to exercise, have dinner with your family, take a road trip somewhere close for a change of scenery, and other ideas that help you to disconnect. It would help if you also considered paying it forward for your staff: maybe it’s two days of vacation, a gift pack that’s sent to everyone full of treats or self-care goodies, or something else entirely. No matter how large or small, these gestures go a long way in employee empowerment.

Keep the communication channels fluid. 

Last—but not least—make sure you keep all communication channels fluid, open and transparent. This means employees talking to managers, managers talking to employees and executives, and so on. Part of giving your staff permission to ‘not be okay’ means ensuring that they feel heard and understood. There are many ways to create a safe space during a troubling time, so consider taking one of these measures:

  • Offering a Slack channel just for employee support. And make a ‘no news’ rule. Instead, it should be about employees speaking up about what they feel so others can offer support and suggestions.
  • Create affinity groups and buddy systems. Pair working parents, new hires, dog lovers, homeowners, etc. These connections build trust, relieve stress, and remind us that we’re not in this alone.
  • Schedule regular meetings with no agenda. Whether it’s a weekly or bi-weekly basis, knowing there is scheduled time on the calendar to speak their mind will make many employees feel supported.

It’s okay to not be okay during this period. But each of us must also do what we can – as leaders, managers, employees, and humans, to continue trying to make things better, for ourselves, for each other, and for the world.

Categories: Communication, Leadership