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Covid-19 - Helping Staff Cope With Change

Posted on 06 July 2020 by Rebecca Dunne

Change is inevitable in every aspect of our lives, but it is not always easy to adapt to those changes. This is especially true during this time of Covid-19 when the status quo at work and at home had been thrown into disarray in so many ways for millions of people in Ireland and worldwide.

Since March 2020, organisations and their staff members around Ireland have been coping with change and uncertainty on a near-weekly basis. Businesses were forced to close their doors and send staff home for their safety and to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading further. Those that could, started to work from home. For some, this wasn’t possible and instead, they had no choice but to look for jobs in an employment market that had plummeted or wait it out.

Now that we have entered Phase 3 of the government’s Roadmap For Reopening Society And Business, the ‘new normal’ is becoming clearer. Businesses and organisations around Ireland are gradually opening their doors, and return to their offices and, in some instances, moving to a permanent remote working business model.

For many employers, the rate of activity and change will increase to accommodate the requirements of social distancing in the workplace, workforces staying at home and the needs of the business to reopen and remain open. As industries are forced to adapt, so are the people working within them. How those employees adapt can differ depending on many factors, including the scope of change and how their employers communicate change.

Communicating Changes Clearly

One of the biggest creators of stress during a period of change in the workplace is communication. No matter what the size of a business, clear communications to staff about what is happening and why will help them understand better.

It can be beneficially to involve staff early in the process of change. This gives them an opportunity to process the change and also to offer assistance or raise questions. Ensure that all staff have a clear point of contact within the change management team.

How an employer communicates change is also important and should be considered carefully. In the current circumstances of lockdowns and social distancing, a group meeting in the office is an unlikely option. Video conferencing tools like Zoom offer a solution to this. Use the tool to speak to all staff together. Then set up Q&As for separate departments with the department head, then individuals. From the Q&A sessions create an FAQ sheet that can be shared with all staff.

Changes should be communicated to all staff and not just to those that are directly impacted. Ensure that staff who are absent or unavailable are contacted directly and as soon as possible. Avoid any member of staff finding out about changes, or even potential changes, second hand.

Accept That Reactions Will Vary

Not everyone handles change well, even when changes are for the better. When an employer tells their workforce that changes are coming, there will be distinct groups of reactions.

Some employees will accept the changes and carry on as normal, adapting to what comes their way. Some will resist all change and push back against it. According to change management experts Prosci, there are ways to proactively predict the resisters before announcing changes. These include people who have been successful in the current model of business and those who interpret change as more work or job loss.

Factor in the different groups and their needs to your change management plan so that the company can help each group understand and prepare for change.

Offer Training and Support

For those in the business whose jobs are directly impacted by changes offer additional support and, if relevant, offer training.

Training

Many businesses are adapting to working models that will see their employees either working from home full-time or splitting their working days between remote working and working from the business premises.

Just because staff have largely worked from home during lockdown do not presume that they are ready for this change to become permanent. The training that you offer will heavily depend on your business type but could include training for the software and technology being used if this is different to pre-covid, or productivity-management for work from home staff. You might also need your remote staff to have a better understanding of cybersecurity.

Mental Health and Wellness

To support your staff, it is important to factor in the impact that change (especially during this particularly stressful time) may take a toll on their mental health. All employers should be aware of this and have clear guidelines for any staff who feel that they or a colleague might be in need of mental health support services. There are many tools and services available in Ireland to help employers support staff and create mental health awareness. For example, Ibec has a mental health and wellness guideline for line managers. CIPD also has fact sheets and guidelines for supporting employees’ mental health at work.

Job Changes

With so many industries hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is inevitable that some employers will have to downsize. When this happens jobs may change and some jobs may be lost. There are ways that employers can help their staff through these transitions.

For employees whose jobs will be changing, they will require clear details on how their job will change and the career path that now puts them on. They might require further training and may benefit from a mentor programme to aid them in the transition.

For any employees whose jobs are unfortunately lost, there are support services that can be offered to help them through that difficult time. Unexpected change, like job loss, can come as a blow and the employee(s) may benefit from speaking to a counsellor to help them process and manage the period. There are also job seeker support services offered by the likes of Job Care Dublin, that are proven in their ability to build up confidence and develop skills for networking and interviews.

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