Smart Citti

5 Ways to Enhance Confidence and Trust Among Employees in the Post-Lockdown Workplace

Introduction

Securing the trust and confidence of employees has never been more important for managers and leaders in the workplace. Trust and confidence are two things that are essential for the mental wellbeing, performance, and happiness of employees especially, in times as fraught with uncertainty as ours.

The post-lockdown workplace is dominated primarily by three main management responsibilities. They are crisis management, change management and turnaround performance management, and employees play a central role in ensuring the success of all three. So, the question managers will directly and indirectly confront repeatedly is how to ensure the best performance from their employees, and for this, building trust and confidence are key.

On the crisis management front, many executives are still knee-deep in efforts to head-off or adapt to the supply chain, cash flow and performance disruptions that have wreaked havoc to many pre-existing plans. And as crisis management takes a back seat, change management steps into the fore with radical changes to work processes and workplace layouts, sudden furloughs and looming layoffs, and perhaps most importantly, changes in the mental and physical health of employees. Finally, the overall objective for many establishments is to engineer a turnaround and recover valuable ground lost during lockdown.

Whichever way you approach the responsibilities of managing a workplace in the post-lockdown era, you will find that the buy-in, support and performance of employees are absolutely essential, and this highlights the importance of not only winning but also retaining the trust and confidence of employees.

In this article, we explore the mindset of employees post-lockdown to understand the centrality of trust and confidence for their mental wellbeing, and we suggest 5 actionable ways to enhance the mental wellbeing and happiness of employees by building trust and confidence.


The Post-Lockdown Mindset of Employees

Before covid-19 struck, experts agreed that there was still much to be done to ensure the mental wellbeing of workers in the UK and around the world. According to a study conducted by Deloitte UK in late 2019, 1 in 6 workers in the UK experiences a mental health problem at any one time. Furthermore, they estimate that poor mental health now costs UK employers as much as ₤45 billion. A recent UN Policy Brief put the cost of depression and anxiety to the global economy at more than US$ 1 trillion per year and this was based on data obtained before 2020. The situation is just as worrisome in the UAE where 22% of residents were said to be experiencing extreme levels of stress pre covid-19, and the cost of stress-related illness on the UAE’s health system was estimated to have reached a whopping $698M USD. It is fair to say things have worsened since the pandemic struck and indeed, if there is one term that captures the general mindset of many employees in the UK, UAE, and beyond following the onset of covid-19 and the lockdown, it is ‘Psychological Distress’.

An article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences defines psychological distress as “...a state of emotional suffering associated with stressors and demands that are difficult to cope with in daily life.” The UK’s Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has already seen one in three managers reporting increased mental health and wellbeing issues among their staff since the pandemic began. To put things in perspective, within the span of 4 to 5 months, employees have been exposed to a compounding of stressors which, under normal circumstances, would rarely occur so close together. As many experts have noted, even the most well-adjusted employees are vulnerable to mental health problems like stress, anxiety, and depression, because of the uniquely trying circumstances we face today.

In their report on the importance of agile change management, Deloitte provides a very useful outline plotting the likely emotional transitions of employees following the current pandemic and related economic crisis. Termed ‘the covid-19 change curve’, it shows how many employees, faced with risks to their health and the health of loved ones alongside the sudden precariousness of their jobs, will likely experience denial and frustration, leading to depression. They go further to suggest that managers should find ways to “actively coach their workforces through the stages of the curve and pull them up from the “valley of despair,” which is expected to have a deep impact on their morale and productivity.”

To even begin to play this role and work towards implementing crisis, change and turnaround management strategies, the importance of cultivating the trust and confidence of employees cannot be overstated. As Deloitte put it in their report on resilient leadership, trust is “...a catalyst for post covid-19 recovery.”



5 Actionable Ways to Enhance Trust and Confidence Among Your Employees


1. Make complying with social distancing regulations easy, seamless, and stress-free

While governments have provided various guidelines on social distancing at work and places of business, it should come as no surprise that how these guidelines are implemented could become a great source of stress and anxiety for workers. Indeed, the more stressful and disruptive these policies are, the less likely compliance will be. It should also be emphasized that employees could lose confidence in the competence and good will of managers whose policies become a source of stress and anxiety.

The good news is that there are tech-based solutions for automating social distancing policies, and employers and managers would do well to consider adopting them. One such solution is the Safe Distance app which automates social distancing guidelines, workplace navigation as well as desk allocation using digital twin technology.

Tech-based solutions like Safe Distance provide the basis for the kind of seamless and stress-free compliance that will allow workers fret less about their safety and the logistics of navigating the workplace during a pandemic, and concentrate more on achieving performance goals. Talk of a second wave of covid-19 infections makes it all the more important that necessary health guidelines are integrated seamlessly and sustainably into workplace processes and procedures.



2. Monitor employee sentiment regularly

Keeping track of employee sentiment is one of the pillars of effective change management. It has long been acknowledged that work-related changes can cause significant mental distress for employees, having significant impact on attendance and productivity even among workers who are complying. Furthermore, nothing erodes the trust and confidence of employees like knowing their managers and executives do not understand the emotional and mental impact of changes implemented in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the post-lockdown workplace is one in which there are multiple stress-inducing factors for employees, and changes to workplace processes are part of them. It is therefore of vital importance that managers devise means to regularly monitor worker sentiment using a variety of methods, including self-reporting and more longitudinal, passive monitoring techniques.

Again, here we find that tech-based solutions can go a long way to assist, even in the area of self-reporting. For instance, the Safe Distance app has a ‘Happy to Help’ feature which allows users to record how they feel at any time using a simple happiness scale. The app can also be scheduled to prompt emotional self-reporting and can be used by employees as an internal network for discreetly offering or requesting assistance in the workplace.

With a tech-based solution like this, it is possible to monitor the direct and indirect impact of workplace policies and arrangements on the mental state and wellbeing of employees in real-time. The inbuilt ‘Happiness Map’, which supports employee anonymity, also allows managers to understand when a widespread intervention may be needed to improve employee sentiment in general. Having real-time access to this kind of information does two things. On one hand, it helps management demonstrate their knowledge of how employees are feeling, and on the other, it empowers managers and executives to intervene quickly to address challenges as they arise.


3. Anticipate difficulties and plan for mitigation

The post-lockdown era is no time for reactive management and leadership in the workplace. It is a time that calls for proactive measures and one proactive approach is to anticipate the kinds of difficulties employees may face and plan to solve or mitigate their effect. It should be of little concern whether the difficulties are directly or indirectly related to work. What matters is their potential effect on the mental wellbeing and productivity of employees.

A good place to start would be to consider employees’ concerns, some of which were mentioned in our previous article. These concerns are related to job security, safety at work, flexible working arrangements, access to sick leave when needed, communication in the workplace, and responsiveness of management. They point to areas where employees may already be facing difficulties.

With growing understanding of the mental health challenges arising from the pandemic and resulting crises, managers should strongly consider creating or strengthening workplace wellbeing programmes, with particular emphasis on mental health. Tanya Dharamshi, counselling psychologist at the Priory Dubai, and other psychologists had, in 2019, advised UAE’s employers to, among other things, establish employee rehabilitation programmes, invest in stress management workshops and educate their employees on mental well-being. Needless to say, the need for such programmes is now more urgent in the UAE, the UK and beyond.

Regularly monitoring employee sentiment is also another powerful tool for anticipating and heading-off potential difficulties before they arise. Reviewing, updating, or establishing related policies (short-term or not) could help in mitigating these difficulties. It is clear, however, that proactive leadership will inspire the trust and confidence of employees in the short- and long-term.


4. Be open and transparent in decision making and policy implementation

Opacity in decision making and policy implementation is the last thing any organisation needs at this time. Leaving employees in the dark, considering the aforementioned psychological distress to which they are exposed, is a recipe for eroding trust and confidence. This post-lockdown era calls for radical openness and transparency in the management of organisations. It is one sure way to secure the trust and confidence of workers, especially in the private for-profit sector where many have been furloughed or made redundant, and others are rightly concerned about the survival of the organisations to which their livelihoods are tethered.

During this time of great disruption and fear, decisions and policies must feel less like impositions and more like mutually agreed terms which employees will play a role in reframing if the need arises. Conducting proper consultation is key, and it is necessary to open multiple lines of communication to ensure that workers can readily approach their managers to discuss matters of interest. Indeed, lack of proper consultation with workers was identified in the Compassion at Work Toolkit as one indication of lack of empathy in the workplace. (See more on empathy below.)



5. Show empathy and compassion

A sub-group of the National Forum on Health and Wellbeing at Work in 2017, identified empathy as a critical component of transformational leadership, and transformational leadership has been linked to many desirable outcomes in the workplace, including motivation, safety, performance, mental wellbeing, and reduced turnover.

One of the reasons showing empathy matters so much could be the role it plays in building trust and confidence between managers and workers. Experts have noted that compassionate leadership supports resilience across organisations in stressful times, and also, that showing empathy and compassion at work can decrease employees’ psychological distress by enhancing positive emotions, which lower heart rate and blood pressure, and also strengthen the immune system.

It is, however, important for managers and executives to broaden their understanding of what it means to show empathy at work to include self-compassion. As outlined poignantly in the Compassion at Work Toolkit, “Self-compassion is a necessary first step in embedding compassion in the workplace…it’s even more important for those who are the most senior in the organisation, because leaders set the tone and lead by example.”

Indeed, it is hard to overstate the importance of self-compassion. In general, empathy and compassion, especially self-compassion, have the ability to humanize us and make us relatable. When managers are relatable, by extension, they become more approachable and better able to inspire confidence and trust. There is also a clear case for managers to demonstrate more self-compassion in order to model healthy workplace behaviours and also demonstrate healthy coping mechanisms for the benefit of their employees.


Conclusion

In conclusion, if you want to manage the wave of changes arising from the covid-19 pandemic while also piloting the turnaround of your organisation’s affairs post-lockdown, it is most important that you prioritize efforts to build and enhance the trust of your employees. Consider the significant risks inherent in failing to do so and take small, actionable steps today to win your workers’ confidence and trust.

To explore the possibility of deploying the SafeDistance technology in your organisation, request a consultation today safedistance@smartcitti.com.


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