Addressing Vulnerability as the Pandemic Weathers On
This spring, we were all hopeful that COVID-19 would only be a short-term interruption in our lives. Little did we know that “social distancing,” “distance learning” and “work from home” would remain staples of our lexicon as this year reaches its end.
When we first explored employee vulnerability on the blog a few months ago, everything about the pandemic felt new. Let’s take a look back at the three areas we encouraged employers to think about back then -- and see how each has changed:
- Technology: In April, many of us were still getting used to interacting with one another in the virtual world. Now, just about everyone has some level of comfort with the videoconferencing and chatting software that underpins our professional and personal lives. We can applaud the strides we’ve made in mastering these programs. We may have “Zoom fatigue,” but we’re less anxious about new technology.
- Social Media: Professionals who previously engaged with one another in person have learned how to use social media as virtual conference or meeting rooms. At the same time, many of us have learned to moderate our use of social media in order to preserve our mental health and prioritize what we really value in our lives.
- Job Security: The pandemic has unfortunately led to furloughs and layoffs for millions of people. Transparency from employers remains as critical as it was in the early days of the pandemic. People want to hear the truth about the health of their employer, and the level of job security they can expect, so they can prepare for the future.
A New Form of Vulnerability
In April, we also considered what the workplace would look like after the pandemic subsides. Since then, many people have returned to a different workplace. Social distancing, reconfigured workstations, masks and omnipresent hand sanitizer are the new normal. Employees are now asking themselves:
Is my space safe?
Are my colleagues practicing the recommended guidelines for masking and social distancing?
Will I be looked down upon for calling out a situation that may pose a risk?
We’re also encountering a new form of workplace conflict. Employees have different views about the pandemic. Some fear the coronavirus more than others. Employees may be much more concerned these days about how their colleagues comport themselves outside work. Are they engaging in activities that put them at greater risk of contracting the virus -- and potentially bringing it into the workplace?
In addition, people may wonder whether their bosses will view them differently based on what they’re comfortable doing -- from commuting to the office, to having in-person meetings, to traveling.
To support their teams, we encourage employers to keep these values at the foundation of their management decisions.
- Trust: Employees may be parents who are juggling their children’s school schedules and adopting the role of teacher while still trying to give 100 percent to their jobs. Employers who communicate that they trust their employees can count on a healthier, more loyal, more engaged workforce.
- Empathy and Respect: Empathy comes naturally to some of us, but others may need to use this time to broaden their understanding of others. Employers should foster a workplace culture where people feel safe and respected during this time of pandemic-induced stress.
- Mental Health: The pandemic has certainly taxed our mental health. Increased stress leads to a higher risk of anxiety, addiction, depression and suicide. To help their employees cope, employers can provide a safe environment, share resources for support and maintain open lines of communication for those who may be struggling.
The challenges posed by the pandemic aren’t going away soon. Vulnerability should not be viewed as a negative trait, but as a natural response to the world we’re living in. Employers must focus on creating space for employees to be vulnerable, and to feel comfortable expressing that.