The world is going through an unprecedented crisis. While businesses are fighting to maintain business continuity, yet managing employee experience is also equally critical during these testing times. And will become more and more important as the world of work undergoes further disruption and embraces digital. The crisis calls for creative ways to balance the employee experience amidst business constraints. The question is how can we?
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Amit Malik, Chief People, Operations & Customer Services Officer, Aviva Life Insurance shares how business continuity and employee experience go hand in hand even in times of crisis.
Managing employee experience has especially become critical during the tough times we are going through on account of the Coronavirus epidemic. What are some of the ways employee experience is affected by a crisis?
We are all social beings. An epidemic of this nature that completely restricts the movement of people is bound to impact them.
“No face to face interactions and disruption of daily routines takes away from employees, a big part of their employment experience, one that is not easy to replace. People lose the sense of belonging.”
The normal routine ceases to exist which is getting ready, travel to work, setting oneself up for the day and while it seems easy that at home one can just jump into work, it is not so. Such a crisis also means employees often have to deal with both work from home and work at home which includes: helping with household chores, taking care of children and demands of family members alongside work. This often makes it difficult for employees to manage their schedules. There is also a risk of employees who stay connected to work for long hours due to fear of missing out.
What are some of the challenges that organizations might face in providing a smooth employee experience while in crisis?
While Social media/ Virtual engagement has been gaining ground for some time now but that has been more at a personal level. Most organizations are yet not prepared for engagement that is 100% in the digital environment. Some of the challenges organizations are facing include – technology support & preparedness, expertise, and experience of business leaders to engage teams while working in a virtual environment alongside distractions, virtual team management routines that suit everyone, managing employee anxieties of missing out, the fun of celebrating success and being there, opportunity to have coffee conversations and de-stress among others.
How can organizations take charge when it comes to maintaining employee experience in a crisis?
This is the time when the statement that ‘soft stuff is the hard stuff’ has become a reality. Both leaders and team members are experiencing a new way of working. HR teams need to take charge and support leaders on how they can best manage their people, support them and keep them engaged along with the already difficult task of driving business results. Simple things like – how to set up a workspace at home, to agreement of timing wherein major meetings are held to bring certain predictability, to ensuring even at home people get breaks to unwind, to managing performance and delivery need to be addressed.
“Leaders need to play an important role in ensuring proactive communication and dissemination of key messages to employees to reiterate the purpose of the organization and ensure each action is in the framework of the company values.”
What are some of the initiatives that you have taken to maintain employee experience during these tough times?
One of the most important actions that we have focused on is to ensure that our employees understand that the organization is there for them and the customers no matter what. This has been achieved through communicating with employees in many different ways. The focus has been on communicating via WhatsApp and Zoom ensuring the information flow as against emails. We have kept the communication short and focused from the CEO and key leaders be it via video, WhatsApp or email. These include not only our customers and employees but also our partners and vendors.
Upon lockdown, we in People Function immediately launched a comprehensive engagement plan mainly driven by using WhatsApp by leaders and their HR partners. This is focused on themes like Fitness & Health, mental wellbeing, updates on economy and industry response to the crisis amongst others. These run Monday to Friday just like a workweek.
Our learning team worked to ensure that employees get access to various online opportunities to learn new skills while in lockdown.
These include a variety of option from professional development examples like Big Data, Analytics, Branding, specific courses for leaders on managing teams during a pandemic, engaging with virtual teams, resilience & focus, mindfulness, etc. to fun and interest-driven like photography, sketching, designing, movie-making among others.
With our internal communications team, we have launched an internal contest and encourage employees to share their stories of courage and resilience during these testing times. All in all, I can say that while we have ensured that communication is fast, timely, informal and boundaryless.
How have these initiatives helped your employees?
While we already had a huge focus on digital and social engagement, we were quite honestly not prepared for a scenario like the current one. All our efforts have been focused on employee well-being and morale in these difficult times. We have assured them that we are there for them and their families. While it is early to say the extent to which these efforts will succeed, we have been able to keep employees motivated and focused to successfully to serve our customers by putting them first besides being able to close the financial year-end, a very important period of business for our customers and us in an insurance company.
How can businesses balance maintaining employee experience and business continuity in times of crisis? What are some of the 2-3 critical steps they need to take?
Business continuity and employee experience are not mutually exclusive. An organization is its people (as they say, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’). As businesses navigate this period, they need to understand that managing employee experience while important in all circumstances becomes crucial to business continuity in a crisis like the present one. A severe health crisis has a huge impact on employees’ mental and physical well-being. Social distancing and complete lockdown are also factors that add to stress.
Add to that anxieties about job and salary losses and working from home suddenly looks like something not as easy to do as it sounds. Keeping employee morale high and continuously engaging and interacting with them, therefore, becomes imperative in helping them contribute to their fullest and thus support business goals.
“In all this, it is an employer who needs to live by the values of the company and ensure that they put the employee before any business metrics.”
Join us for the People Matters EX: A Virtual Conference on 19th June to learn what it takes to create a world of incredible experiences.