The arrival of the current pandemic of coronavirus – COVID 19, has had a dramatic and sudden impact on the foundation which companies and employees took as a given. This shock has shaken us to our core and forced people to suddenly reconsider our basic beliefs and understanding.
Employees find themselves back at the base of Richard Bolles’ Pyramid of Issues, focused on determining, What’s Happening? Asking questions such as How did I get here? What on earth is happening? Many of us continue to grapple with this question as we move to the next level of Survival. What do I need for physical survival? Do I have food, water and shelter? Can I survive? Will I survive?
The Three Boxes of Life; Richard Bolles
Faced with these basic questions many have rushed to take some semblance of control in order to address our anxiety providing confidence that we will survive. Hoarding of basic supplies including food staples and items such as toilet paper has become commonplace. This is nothing new and happens almost every hurricane season with people stocking up as storms approach. What is different is the level of uncertainty that the “invisible” disease is delivering. If I can track the hurricane, where it moves and know that the storm is clearly tracked by the meteorological experts, I have a sense of understanding and therefore control.
New norms have been established creating stability and new definitions of our life as we know it. Fortunately, we are finding ways to continue on with both our personal and professional lives. We discover we can still carry on and contribute in different ways to produce our respective “work product”. However, as we settle in this new structure, we are continuously reminded of the uncertain times we are in. For many of us the only thing we can see in a tangible way is the impact of the pandemic: leaders telling us how bad and dangerous the disease is, more infections and deaths reported daily and changes created by social distancing. All of these contribute to our anxieties forcing us back in a recurring cycle to the Basic Needs at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
In this context employers are being faced with the need to reconsider the employer/employee value proposition. What are employers offering? How are we adding value to employees’ lives. How are we engaging employees? Employees needs and desires have changed.
Many employers have done a very good job addressing the shorter-term crisis needs of employees. Employers are putting employees first. The most effective have been quick to address employees’ basic needs, creating stability, putting safety and health first and providing emotional support. In addition to sick-pay and emergency family leave benefits mandated by the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a growing number of companies are increasing pay for front-line workers and offering additional assistance to employees who are impacted by the coronavirus. Numerous large employers, greater than 500 employees, who were exempt from the Act are modifying leave policies to accommodate these expanded benefits.
So much has been done to react to the pandemic. But how do we help our organization and employees get back to the higher levels in Bolles’ model: Meaning or Mission and Effectiveness? How do we reengage employees in support of the company’s mission?
We need to ask: Are there fundamental changes in our company values? Are there changed priorities that need to be reflected in our company’s mission? Examining what has changed, how do we interpret the company’s values in our new environment? What do we expect of the company and what do we offer our employees? How are these answers reflected in the human resources programs and plans? What changes, if any, are necessary?
Now is the opportunity to reexamine our value proposition as we plan to “return to normal” operations or “the new normal”.