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We are all aware that navigating the last couple of years has had a devastating impact on our organizations and teams, but then for a few brief months it seemed like we could see the light at the end of what has been a very dark pandemic tunnel. And then came the discovery of the Omicron variant.
All the hope for a return to some kind of sustained normal in the near future appears to have been dashed, with some regions of the world reporting cases of Omicron doubling every two-to-three days and returning to work-from-home recommendations.
Many leaders are concerned about what this will mean for their organizations, and want to know what they can do to minimize further impact on employee mental health and engagement, while avoiding another wave of the Great Resignation.
The reality is that the pandemic has negatively affected the needs of our employees and in some cases exacerbated and highlighted the places where their working environment and experience were already detrimental. Many employees are now no longer prepared to work in roles where they are sacrificing, and expected to sacrifice, so much personally for their jobs.
The good news is that you don’t need to fix the unfixable; you can’t neutralize the pandemic or reverse the specific ways in which it is affecting your employees. Instead, to support your team through what lies ahead, it is important to identify which needs are being affected under the surface by this latest chapter in the pandemic saga, and to look for new and different ways that you can meet those same needs in order to help your teams cope until we finally get to the other side of this next wave.
Which employee needs will be most severely impacted by Omicron?
There are four main universal needs that have been most severely impacted for employees since the pandemic began, and unsurprisingly these are the same four needs likely to be affected by the surge of the Omicron variant. Here are four ways that you as a leader can support and underpin these needs for your teams in the coming weeks and months:
Foundation/Function Needs.These are the needs that relate to our physical wellbeing. The pandemic has affected peoples’ foundation/function needs in a plethora of ways, from supply chain issues and panic buying to stress affecting sleep patterns and school closures disrupting home environments. Adding to this, many companies are expecting employees to work more hours, with less breaks, and asking for higher work output, especially amid the current labor crisis. A lot of companies are losing employees because they are simply burning out and cannot see a way of staying within their role without it compromising their physical wellbeing both in and outside of work. It is vitally important that employers are supporting their teams in maintaining a healthy work/life balance and getting enough breaks. One simple way that leaders can help with this is to support staff in prioritization giving tasks and projects status on a must/should/could continuum, so that they can focus on the essentials without burning out.
Security. This is the need that relates to our physical, mental and emotional security. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the level of uncertainty and insecurity about what lies ahead has meant that this need has been impacted more than most. Employees are seeking a sense of security and reassurance that their future is at least safe in a work context. One of the things that negatively affects this sense of security is a lack of communication with teams, which can lead to employees conjuring worst-case scenarios to fill the knowledge vacuum. So, as a leader, the more you can communicate proactively with your teams and provide reassurance both about the future of your organization and their position in it, the more secure your employees will feel.
Connection. This is the need that relates to our sense of community and belonging. Throughout the pandemic, with the focus on social distancing and reducing interactions with others in order to prevent the spread of the virus, social connections have been seriously eroded. When you add to this that many organizations have added some element of remote working, your employees’ need for connection is likely to have been negatively affected. That’s why leaders need to find more opportunities and ways to connect with their teams and to encourage them to connect with each other, including using technology as a facilitator. These connections must still have as much of a human element as possible; a focus purely business matters, combined with the absence of face-to-face contact, can feel sterile and alienating. When you connect with your employees over the coming weeks and months, be sure to include some element of personal connection alongside your organizational objectives in order cultivate more trust. And where possible, put in place initiatives for your employees to connect with each other on a more personal and social level, as well as a professional one.
Personal Power Need. This is the need that relates to our feeling of empowerment. It has also been the most severely compromised over the last couple of years. While leaders cannot do anything to change the control that their team members have over the pandemic itself and the ripple effect on their day-to-day lives, what they can do is help them to feel more empowered in their working roles. Leaders wanting to address this need can support their employees in having greater autonomy within their current roles, and also speak to them about what their career goals and desires are, helping them to see the ways that they are able to facilitate their movement along that path with clear milestones, objectives and ways to manage their own progress.
While putting initiatives in place to support these four employee needs won’t prevent the Omicron variant affecting your team, they will underpin your employees’ needs during the worst of what is still to come and help them to navigate and cope with the path ahead.
By doing this, leaders will cultivate more trust, connection and loyalty from and with their teams, enhancing and developing employee engagement, which we know creates a direct positive impact to an organization’s bottom-line.