To say that COVID changed the world would be an understatement. The pandemic completely changed the way people think, live, and work. We need to change the paradigms in the workplace as well.

Recently I’ve encountered several groups experiencing struggles as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic.  Experiences with COVID and its aftermath have created a wide range of challenges that add up to a considerable amount of extra stress. These challenges extend well beyond illness and quarantines. Concerns such as supply chain issues, labor shortages, and paycheck uncertainty are profoundly impacting company morale and finances.

Life and Work Has Changed

Your team members’ lives are forever changed and that deserves attention. Most organizations have a Cadence for how they approach planning and goal setting that in many ways hasn’t changed. It appears to be business as usual in a very unusual time. Businesses need to be sensitive, not only to their customers, but their employees as well. The problem is nothing in your workforce is the way it used to be. The expectations need to be reconfigured and built around these changes.

Adjusting Labor Expectations

Specifically, one issue I’ve noticed is that pandemic-related challenges are making it difficult for people to achieve their typical targets. They are, through no fault of their own, failing. People are hardwired with a need to succeed. It’s immeasurably damaging to the human psyche to repeatedly fail. Organizations, on the other hand, are hardwired for growth. So in the end, neither of their targets are met and people aren’t succeeding, making an already stressful situation worse.

Another major issue caused by the pandemic is the shortage of labor. In many rural environments this shortage has driven up wages and organizations are struggling to meet their demands. 

Throwing Money at the Problem is Not Enough

Not surprisingly, as organizations grapple with the challenge of a decrease in labor, they are offering competitive increases in wages and sign-on bonuses in an effort to attract new team members. The thing about work and pay is that it’s more than just money to people. If workplaces decide not to change wages during a time when everything else is changing, their team members won’t feel satisfied or fairly compensated. Many companies resist “buying loyalty,” but team members may feel that they are paying a price for staying, when other companies are offering more.

Companies need to invest in their employees which will, in turn, pay dividends for the company.

So, Where Do We Start?

We need to be prepared to think differently. We cannot be using the same standards to measure success that we used two years ago. Times have changed and nothing is the same as it once was.

Here are a few tips or suggestions for addressing these challenges:

  1. Listen well – Focus on listening carefully to what your people are experiencing and how they see life differently today. One of the most effective listening strategies is to reflect back that you understand what your team members are saying by stating their concerns or ideas back to them. Avoid focusing on future goals without a clear understanding of your team members’ current viewpoints and concerns. In general, people are more willing to step up to new challenges when they feel understood. 
  2. Set people up to succeed – Consider carefully the targets you are setting on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. If they are generally unattainable under current conditions, remove that goal from their visible sight. It doesn’t achieve anything, and only fuels feelings of failure.
  3. Learn about what your people need now – Work with your teams to figure out what additional measures need to be taken to address the shifts in their lives due to Covid.  Many people have experienced a major shift in priorities and how they want to spend their time. Actively seek opportunities to meet these new needs in order to create an environment conducive to success, satisfaction and more work life balance.
  4. Invest wisely– If wages are an issue in your area, carefully consider the emotional aspects of compensation, not just the financial implications. Money is not necessarily a powerful incentive, but can be a very powerful demotivator. If a person believes they are not fairly paid or valued, they will become severely dissatisfied which can lead to them quitting their job. Ignoring people’s concerns won’t help. Conversations about money will typically help the situation, even if there won’t be a change in how someone is paid.  

If you have been navigating any of these challenges, and have successfully used these or other strategies please share, I’d love to hear what has been working for you.

Since the new normal is still being determined – you won’t go wrong by doing more listening, learning, and showing you care by being open to new alternatives.

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