Just when you think you’ve got over a global pandemic, another crisis comes in its wake, i.e. the current cost-of-living challenges practically every single one of us is facing.
In a recent survey of over 1,000 leaders and managers, almost three-quarters told of the pressure their teams are under. They cited examples of fear and anxiety in the workplace, a rise in absenteeism, and demoralised staff. Many of the respondents believed that these issues stem from the financial worries their employees may have.
Businesses aren’t exactly in the best position to alleviate the money woes of their staff, yet the worry of meeting their household bills is having an effect on workers’ productivity levels. It’s understandable—it would be difficult to concentrate on your work if you’re not eating three square meals each day or if you’re not sleeping because of the stress of it all. Or if you’re perpetually cold because you can’t afford to put the heating on at home, or simply because you’re getting into debt/can’t meet your priority bills and you don’t know where to turn next.
Given that workers have had to combat fear and uncertainty around their health and careers for more than two years, due to Covid-19, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find their resilience levels are low and emotional fatigue is high as they now try to find a way through this latest cost of living crisis. It’s an incredible amount of pressure to work under every day for such a prolonged period of time.
Of course, businesses exist to make money. They’re not charities. They often have stakeholders to answer to when profit is mentioned. For some companies, their profit margins are so tight, there’s very little give. However, concentrating solely on the bottom line for the foreseeable would be a mistake.
There are staff shortages in a significant number of industries, e.g. manual trades, hospitality, care services, etc. There are several reasons for this, such as these trades/roles no longer appealing to job seekers because of the unsociable hours involved and the heavy work, etc. If you’re a company experiencing a shortage of staff or skills, the last thing you want to do is alienate or mistreat the employees who do turn up every day.
Team cohesion, morale and motivation falls apart if a ‘them and us’ feeling arises between employees and their leaders. Rather than crack the whip, try and empathise with how your staff may be feeling. Don’t dismiss their worries in a bid to reassure them nor judge them for any financial situation they may be battling. For some people, their home life could involve fighting for survival…you may have no idea what some of your team members may be going through or the events that may be unfolding behind closed doors.
Listen to the individual; ask if, and how, you may be able to support them, and take into account how their situation may be affecting their concentration and output. In other words, show them some understanding and compassion, if they ease off or appear distracted for a while.
Understand that people may want different things from your leadership
Two team members could have identical worries and situations inside and outside of work; however, how they cope with these challenges may differ. Don’t assume that a one-size-fits-all approach will be successful; be prepared to coach and empower people in different ways. For example, someone struggling in this cost-of-living crisis may want to throw themselves into their work as a way to detract from their financial problems. They may look to you for clear leadership and realistic challenges to keep their attention from wandering towards things they have little control over. They won’t want to be micro-managed, but instead, tasked with some quick wins and autonomous, achievable targets they can feel good about when they’ve cracked them.
Compare this to their colleague who may be completely overwhelmed by the problems they’re facing at home. This team member may want as much flexibility from you as you’re able to afford them…perhaps even some guidance and hand-holding to help them get through the day when their mind is racing nineteen-to-the-dozen with apocalyptic scenarios.
These are just two examples of how people may choose to cope with their problems, and there will be many others. Understanding behavioural patterns and some of the key operating principles of the brain will enhance your leadership style.
Be clear and concise about the company’s vision
It’s fine to talk about, and look to, the future when your team are having a hard time, as long as you do this in a sensitive, appropriate manner. Over the last few years, people have shown that they can be resilient, but only if they know what they’re up against and what the outcome(s) may be. This is why employees felt so much fear in the early days of the pandemic when the world didn’t know much about Covid-19 and the impact it would have. The human brain likes certainty, something which for many people can appear to be in very short supply. One of the ways in which leaders can support their people is by providing as much stability and certainty as possible. Identify the things which you as the team leader can control and can be certain of, such as the weekly briefing always taking place at the same time/day each week or always treating individuals with respect and being open and fair with the decisions you make.
When your staff are facing huge challenges outside of work (which they may bring into work with them), the last thing they need is surprises sprung on them. If changes must be made to the business that will affect some aspect of their working life, be open and honest with your team as soon as you can. Give them time to mentally adjust to any upheaval; again, the period of adjustment and support required may vary from individual to individual.
A clear, shared vision may actually prove inspirational to your team—it could give them hope for the future when everything else around them currently looks bleak. In this respect, don’t underestimate them, as they may surprise you. On the flip side, they may initially feel additional pressure or fear of the changes afoot; be prepared for any fallout and support them appropriately if the company’s targets, business plan or culture takes some getting used to.
Consider the team’s development
Maybe not as a single entity, but individually…think about how you could improve the career prospects of your staff. Are there individuals in your team who would be suitable for promotion within the company or the wider sector?
Though you may enjoy leading a successful, cohesive team, and you may hope that this continues into the future, this is largely a selfish view. A good leader will always look to develop the people they manage. As Richard Branson, famously penned in 2014 “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to”.
Some team members may be happy where they are, but there will be individuals who harbour ambitions to climb the ladder. Helping the latter achieve their career goals may in the short-term leave a hole in your team, but their promotion will undoubtedly improve the financial prospects of that staff member, which will be a truly fantastic outcome if they’re struggling to pay their bills, and the long-term pay off for you is your reputation as a leader that people will want to work for, therefore attracting some of the top talent in the sector.
An average leader will ensure their team makes their life easier and the company’s profits greater. An inspirational leader will still do those things, but they will also support the development and progress of the individuals they lead at the same time—even if this leaves them at a disadvantage every now and again.
If you’re a good leader, you’ll be able to fill the gap a team member leaves with someone equally as capable, who knows the value they bring to the group. Do right by your team at the same time as doing right by your company. It’s possible, honestly!
Though I’d like to say that 2023 will bring less worry and uncertainty, I can’t. The financial health of the country will remain precarious for months to come, unfortunately, which may only serve to perpetuate the worries of its citizens.
All that said, we sincerely hope you enjoy the festive period and trust that the New Year will bring a multitude of good things!
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