The most important chapter of your story as an employer has just been written. No edits or revisions allowed.
The events of the last six months have impacted the foundational needs of us human beings—physical safety, economic security, equity in relation to fellow citizens. As communities, organizations and friend groups were often put on hold, and tested like never before, the one constant for the fortunate many has been their work. And, work has either been a useful distraction, a helpful support or a greater burden during this time.
Clearly, this has not been an easy road for most companies as they struggled with the unprecedented, societal-wide disruptions, often making up the playbook as they went along. While some companies thrived others struggled for survival, with some winning and some, unfortunately, losing.
(To all those working in HR and People & Culture, we appreciate you!)
Whether your company grew, paused or contracted, all companies were put to a test when it came to their values, their culture and how they treated their people. And, the decisions leaders made have directly shown whether the platitudes they echoed at all-hands meetings about the importance of employees and culture were hollow or sincere. To be clear, every company’s lived values are no longer a secret. They have been revealed.
The fundamental question during this time remains…
Did you choose humanity?
Said another way, did you see people entrusted to your care as a leader, or did you see employees that need some assistance to minimize disruption to the business?
When people were scared about the unknown impacts of the pandemic the first two weeks of March, did you prepare or push people to produce like nothing was happening?
When people were juggling work and family obligations, did you reduce the burden or double down on micromanaging their time?
When the mental and physical exhaustion of COVID-living set in as the pandemic became a long-term event, did you show you cared or just focus on business as usual?
When George Floyd was murdered, did you reach out to your organization or remain silent?
When racial injustice was laid bare and people were hurting, did you come together as a community to talk and act, or did you offer a perfunctory message and do little?
When there was a lull in COVID cases in your area, did you make people come back to the office, or did you ask them if they felt comfortable first and ensure proper safety protocols were in place?
How you acted as leader and as a company over the last six months is on the mind of both current employees and prospective employees. Did you choose humanity? Did you put your values at the center of every decision, or were they just hanging on a wall, espoused and ignored? Regardless of your opinion about your performance as a leader, employees have already formed theirs.
With the economic upheaval, many employees may feel they have little choice but to not rock the boat, keep their head down and keep working for that paycheck. But the job market will eventually change, and those who chose humanity will be forever appreciated, and those that didn’t will be impacted as well. And, no amount of employer branding can wash away the Glassdoor or Blnd posts, the post-interview get-to-real conversations or the signal of people choosing to leave when other opportunities are available.
The proof, either way, is there.
People are talking about and sharing how the best employers supported their employees during this time and made hard decisions in support of what they truly believed. And, there’s no doubt, they’ll ask what you did.
Some exemplar companies may be measured against:
Salesforce offering additional family leave among other benefits to support employees.
Carta’s CEO taking responsibility for laying off 161 people in a gut-wrenching letter.
Costco reportedly pulling a supplier whose CEO called the Black Lives Matter movement a “terrorist organization”.
Patagonia, among 700 other companies, committing to give employees time off to vote on election day.
These are just a few examples of companies and leaders choosing to live their values and back their communications with actions. Many more exist on both sides of the ledger. And, regardless of publicity, your current employees are clear on what their experience has been like the past six months.
While it is too late for leaders to rewrite the story of the past six months, you can take accountability, choose transparency and write a new story going forward. Here are some ways:
1) Ask your employees how you have done as a leader and company the past six months handling the disruption of the pandemic and what you could do. Then, act upon what you learn.
2) Ask your BIPOC employees if they’ve felt supported, if they feel like you’ve done enough, if they feel they belong. Then, act upon what you learn.
3) Ask every leader to check-in on their team members’ physical, mental and emotional well-being. Then, act upon what you learn.
4) Speak openly and honestly about the struggles, and the need for a recommitment to supporting one another through whatever their struggle. Live the“teamwork” value you celebrate in good times.
5) Carefully (re)consider the goals set, the deadlines being driven and all the additional things you are asking people do that aren’t essential. Yes, business must go on, but weigh short-term growth with long-term employee passion, mental health and personal relationships.
And, most importantly…
Give people election day off to choose humanity and the leaders that will best represent all of your employees.