Managers at companies of all sizes and industries are grappling with supporting and engaging employees during this extraordinary time. They’re doing their best to navigate issues such as social injustice, work/life balance, and a global pandemic. M&T Bank is no exception. We sat down with Tracy Woodrow, our Chief Human Resources Officer, who offers four tips to help during the pandemic and beyond. The pandemic has caused challenges for both employees who are deemed essential on-site workers and for employees who have been able to work from home. Today we explore ways to keep at-home workers engaged and supported.
Tip 1: Realize, with the right support, an unconventional workforce can be productive and engaged.
Many industries have gone from having only some remote workers, to nearly all in a short time. The pandemic has compelled companies to think and act differently to accommodate and support employees as they adjust to changes in their personal and professional lives.
- Be flexible. For those in professional positions, now is the time to show employees that the company trusts and values them by allowing for non-traditional workdays. Companies can help employees deal with the additional stressors of a pandemic, such as caretaking responsibilities during the day for children or aging parents, by providing flexibility in their work schedule. Allowing employees to flex their time throughout the day in order get their work done can help to alleviate the pressure employees are feeling. Setting clear expectations for productivity and value creation allows managers to ensure that work is getting done and done well, regardless of the specific hours worked.
- Encourage employees to establish work-life boundaries. Employees may have trouble establishing ground rules for their workday, which can cause burn out. The elimination of a commute drawing a line between work and home has magnified this issue even further. At M&T, we have recommended that meetings should only be held between the hours of 9AM and 4PM, leaving the first and last hour of the traditional day free, when possible. This allows employees to be able to organize a start to their day prior to 9AM and wrap up emails etc. prior to the 5PM end time. It also was a direct result of feedback from our monthly employee pulse surveys that showed employees were working hours outside of the normal workday to complete tasks due to the fact that they were in meetings from 8AM-5PM. It is also important to encourage employees to completely shut down at the end of the day and work week as much as possible. As a leader, your actions speak louder than your words. If your employees see that you are establishing appropriate boundaries, they will feel more empowered to do so as well.
Tip 2: Be there for your employees, even from afar.
While some employees have adjusted to their new work at home environments without issue, for others being at home may cause other stressors such as being a caretaker, or feeling isolation from living alone, or not having space conducive to do their job.
- Show empathy. Make sure employees know the company is understanding of their individual situations and is prepared to make necessary accommodations where needed. According to a study by Perceptyx, employees who feel strongly supported by their managers and teams are almost twice as engaged as those who don’t. Empathy is key.
- Communicate resources available to employees such as through an EAP or their health plan that may ease some of the hardship or worry. We have also supported employees by offering additional programming such as extended free behavioral and mental health telemedicine appointments for those taking part in our medical plan, a program that assists in locating caregiver support and free employee webinars with experts on topics they have reported they are struggling with such as burnout, caring for elders, children or family members with disabilities.
Tip 3: Listen, learn, and respond.
Two-way communication has been imperative for our workforce over the past 11 months. From an increase in messages from our executives to HR updates, and encouraging managers to have more frequent check-ins, making sure we are available and responsive is critical.
- Take the “pulse” of your employees. We send a monthly survey to all employees asking general questions about how they are doing, how supported they feel, what they are currently struggling with and how can we help them in preparation to begin to help welcome people back to the office. We have also begun to ask them what their concerns are so we can work on proactively addressing these items ahead of time.
- Use the information to make meaningful changes. It is important to show employees that you are not only hearing them, but also using the information to respond accordingly. We regularly share our pulse survey results with employees and divisional leaders and make decisions on initiatives as a result of that data.
Tip 4: Foster an environment of inclusivity.
As we have mentioned in previous tips, each employee is responding differently to changes around them as a result of the pandemic. Being remote adds a new level of difficulty in trying to determine an employee’s wellbeing. Employees living along or even with others can be feeling more isolated than they ever have before. Making them feel involved and included establishes a sense of belonging that is critical right now.
- Pay attention to employees who might be emotionally vulnerable. It is difficult to determine how an employee is doing without regular in-person contact. Our managers use clues and paying attention to increases in complaints, negativity or lack of participation. We encourage managers to begin each meeting by asking employees ‘How are you doing?’ and demonstrating that they are an important part of the team. Regular one on one and small group meetings are essential for maintaining an open line of communication.
- Host online social time. Not all meetings need to be about the work at hand. Encourage employees to schedule virtual coffee breaks with colleagues. At M&T, many resource groups such as iGen, a group that emphasizes the importance of intergenerational networking, utilize randomized pairings to encourage idea sharing and brief touchpoints across departments. In addition, managers should make time to provide recognition and celebrate the successes of their team members as much as possible. In addition to providing an outlet to reduce stress, all these activities also foster inclusivity, which is an important part of our culture.
- Get others involved. It is important that all employees feel part of the team. Don’t just go to those who readily volunteer or to your “usual suspects”. Make sure you are finding ways to engage every employee in some way – for example, inclusion on a project, participation in the planning of an on-line event or responsibility for moderating a team discussion.
You are not alone in this challenge.
The reality is these four tips will live on far beyond the pandemic and our unconventional work environments. There will be a time when people return to the workplace. Maybe not everyone, and definitely not all once, but some semblance of the environment pre-March 2020 will begin to emerge. Perhaps then we will all be more in tune with employee well-being and more tolerant of the occasional dog barking on a conference call. No matter where, when, or how employees do their jobs in the future, it is our job to be there for them along the way.
Want to learn more?
To learn more about managing through challenging times with M&T Bank and view other content in our series, please visit mtb.com/managing. Alternatively, call our Commercial Service Team at 1-800-724-2240 or your Relationship Manager.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the sale of any financial product or service. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Please consult with the professionals of your choice to discuss your situation.