New research highlights that now, more than ever, employee mindsets really matter. As COVID-19 continues to reshape our world, business leaders are asking themselves how they can protect their organisations against future crises and remain sustainably successful amid unrelenting change and uncertainty in a post-pandemic world.
Speaking at the 2021 Partnership Connect webinar, I shared answers to these questions based on research we conducted with leaders, employees and financial advisers. Drawing on the research insights, I painted a picture of the changing world of work and highlighted the strategic importance of employee resilience, well-being and engagement.
Unprecedented levels of employee distraction
While businesses battle the overt challenges of the pandemic, the more covert crisis looming is the impact of distracted, disengaged employees battling pandemic fatigue.
COVID-19 and the stressors it has introduced undoubtedly impacts on the employee psyche, creating unprecedented levels of distraction and overwhelming employees as they grapple with fear of infection, possible retrenchment, financial pressures and new work models. Now more than ever, employees are battling to remain engaged, focused on their work, and avoid burnout.
The research highlights the severe impact of the pandemic, with nearly all the businesses surveyed having to revise business and operational strategies due to the pandemic, and a third experiencing major disruption and retrenchment.
Not surprising then that South Africa recently hit a new record-high unemployment rate of 32,6%, with Stats SA reporting that total liquidations increased by 18,9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the first quarter of 2020.
Importance of employee resilience
A key insight emerging from the research is the increasing importance of employee resilience and engagement in the new world of work.
Employee engagement is a well-researched concept that refers to an employee’s level of commitment, willingness and desire to exert discretionary effort in pursuit of organisational goals. It enables individuals to do their best work on a sustainable basis.
Resilience refers to the ability to thrive and be highly resourceful, in a world of constant change and in the face of extreme daily pressure and fierce competition. A resilient mindset helps employees to remain focused and present, despite the inevitable stressors, distractions and uncertainty.
Resilient employees tend to be more capable of dealing with change and are at lower risk of burnout, resulting in better physical and mental well-being. A resilient mindset not only shields employees from the negative effects of stress but drives employee engagement and reduces absenteeism.
It stands to reason that a critical mass of resilient and engaged employees translates into a more resilient organisation, which is better positioned to overcome future challenges, survive crises and remain successful on a sustainable basis.
The research shows leaders generally felt that their businesses have been reasonably resilient. This is partly because the majority of leaders surveyed experienced greater unity across their leadership teams, saying they felt supported by other leaders and more connected, engaged and accountable to other leaders than before the pandemic. This, however, does not take away from the fact that leaders found leading during the pandemic challenging, having scored ease of leading at 5,6 out of 10 on average.
A disconnect between leadership and employees
The research results also suggest a disconnect between leadership and employees when it comes to perceptions around levels of engagement, with leaders believing that employees were more engaged than employees actually felt. This suggests leaders may be overestimating levels of engagement.
Resilience is not something that one is born with but can be developed. There are various ways business leaders can strengthen employees’ personal resilience and, by extension, organisational resilience.
Building an enabling culture in which employees understand and identify with the organisation’s purpose and feel empowered to manage all aspects of their personal health and well-being – mental, physical, emotional and financial – is a key part of building employee resilience.
Employers may also consider including resilience workshops as an integral part of their standard training and development programmes.
I highlight the essential role that resilient leaders play in nurturing resilient employees across an organisation.
Firstly, leaders need to model the behaviour they want to see in their employees and inspire them to follow by example. Secondly, it’s critical that leaders understand the importance of employee well-being and take deliberate measures to build well-being and resilience.
Building employee resilience and an enabling culture
There are also some simple rituals businesses can establish to build employee resilience and an enabling culture.
For example, Dr Alex Granger, the keynote speaker at our Partnership Connect webinar, suggested that leaders should start online meetings a little earlier than scheduled and give employees the opportunity to share their challenges and how they are overcoming them – in essence their stories of personal resilience.
Businesses may also want to rethink their employee value proposition (EVP), including employee benefits. According to the research, employee benefits (EB) are perceived by employees as a key aspect of the EVP.
Our research insights highlight the need for a far more holistic approach to the EVP (which incorporates EB), one that considers the well-being and changing needs of employees and their families over the employee’s working lifetime.
The right combination of EVP and EB offerings helps employees to deal with distracting stressors and, in doing so, boosts employee resilience, well-being and engagement.
At the heart of nurturing employee resilience is the inherent belief that all employees deserve the opportunity to be well and to not only survive at work but to thrive.
It’s no longer simply about offering employees a competitive remuneration and benefits package but rather a proposition that considers work-life balance, work-life fusion, and the health and well-being of employees and their families. When businesses get this right, they reap the many rewards of resilient employees and a resilient, successful business.
Employee mindsets have always mattered but in this changing world of work, it’s becoming evident that they matter more than ever.