A New Reality After COVID-19: Fostering Trust and Putting Employees First

In Times Of Crisis

As flood waters rushed through Calgary and much of southern Alberta in June 2013, significant damage to infrastructure, homes, businesses, and lives had an immediate and dramatic impact on businesses in Calgary. As profiled in bh at the time, several businesses rose to the challenge and built on their strong workplace cultures to quite literally weather the storm. Both the Calgary Food Bank and IDEACA are examples of companies recognized as Great Places to Work – and they both mobilized into action to help affected employees and rebuild their worksites and the surrounding community. These companies had strong leadership, were well organized and prepared, and were focused on doing right by their employees and their communities. They knew that if they invested in their employees and communities, success would follow.

The scale of the crises today is much greater. Virtually all businesses and employees across Canada are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many reports from across the country about businesses who were ill prepared – despite warnings from health experts and knowledge about how the situation was unfolding in Asia. For example, many companies do not have the technology or capacity for all of their employees to work from home. Other companies do not have the procedures in place or adequate supplies to keep employees safe, such as requiring employees to share equipment like headsets or forklifts without proper cleaning supplies, or even not having enough space for employees to eat and sit apart from one another. How then can businesses shift into action, turn the tide, and enact changes that will make them even stronger than they were before? It might have to do with focusing on the relationship of trust you have with your employees, and how that trust can be built or strengthened.

Trust Rules

“Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and the performance rewards will follow”

Great Places to Work Canada® has studied how businesses survive crises. In their book Trust Rules, Bob Lee & Jose Tolovi Neto will tell you, trust culture is the foundation on which all great workplaces are built. In fact, they know that “high trust organizations tend to emerge quicker and stronger from crisis than other businesses”. What then can businesses learn from the Great Places to Work philosophy during the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis? Maybe it’s that looking after your employees leads to better financial performance – even in a crisis. Employees who feel taken care of and trust their employers will be more resilient, more committed, and will be more willing to ‘do what needs to be done’ in a crisis like forgoing pay, which has now become a necessity for many businesses across Canada. This means that companies that maintain a culture of high trust during the pandemic crisis will be able to retain their best employees and come out of the situation to their benefit, as a stronger organization.

In the face of a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, companies can show their true purpose and leadership. Sobey’s, a Canadian company that we profiled in the past, is one business that has stood out during the crisis. Grocery stores remain an essential service and their employees are considered local heroes working the frontlines to keep communities healthy, according to Sobey’s CEO, Michael Medline. Medline announced Sobey’s Hero Pay Program in March, “We want to ensure our teammates are well cared for and that we lead the way for fair treatment”. As part of the program, Sobey’s will increase pay and install plexiglass shields at checkout counters to keep its employees and customers safe.

Another way that trust will prove to be a critical component during the COVID-19 crisis? It predicts how well businesses manage employees who work remotely. With so many companies now relying on telecommuting arrangements to keep their businesses running, building trust between employees and managers and amongst team members is so important. Ways to build trust can look like clear and open communication and empowering employees to manage their own time and prioritize commitments.

Companies should be thinking now about how they will come out the other side of this crisis. Will they come out stronger than they were before? It seems clear that keeping employees connected, engaged and loyal will be critical.

When The Dust Settles

When the dust settles, and it will settle, how will you return to business and high performance as quickly as possible?

If your company has the resources to maintain employee investments during this time, it will pay dividends when this crisis comes to an end. Your employees will be dedicated and loyal, and will help your business to recover and prosper. If you are a small business and resources are not available, think of creative ways to stay connected with your employees. Later in this issue we discuss how to support the mental health of employees during social distancing and many of these things have little or no cost. bh

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