Through the GRC Lens – June 2020

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Has COVID-19 made us more empathetic?

Since the global workforce shift to working remotely, how have employees accepted and adopted to these new processes and work environment? Is the ability to return to the office a truly reassuring step toward normalcy? Companies leave no stone unturned while trying to bring back their employees to office, but has the focus shifted? – Let’s see what made it to the headlines in June – through the GRC lens.

A new paradigm

COVID-19 has brought in huge changes to the way we work, collaborate, and engage with our peers. Evidently, remote work is here to stay, and that makes it more crucial for both businesses and employees is to identify, understand, and embrace the advantages of agile working. But the rise of remote working, worldwide, has made communication more challenging. While on the positive side we see more adoption and acceleration of newer technologies by a broader audience, electronic means of communication is still alexithymic.

While this can make people feel that they are a part of a larger, although virtual, human experience, the current circumstances have changed the pace and cadence of peer interactions. New methods of connectivity allow face-to-face interactions; however, a sense of intimacy and understanding is lost, in the long run. Ultimately, there is a minimization of emotions, as we are exposed to fewer opportunities to tune into emotions, unlike in physical conversations.

Today, organizations are beginning to think about getting their employees back to office. And while this takes logistical and operational planning related to schedules, seating configurations, elevator usage, cafeteria usage, food delivery, and much more, it’s not just the physical health that they need to consider. The bigger question is, “Are your employees ready to come back?

This unforeseen crisis, the rapid change in work environments, layoffs and furloughs, and the ever-changing cycles of disruption and adaptation have taken a toll on worker’s productivity and mental health. The new post-pandemic environment has made it imperative for organizations to address employee mental health and well-being more than ever before.

What does this mean for organizations?

A recent survey by Weber Shandwick and KRC found that ‘nearly half of employees are concerned that their employers will bring them back to work before it’s safe.’ In America, IBM polled 25,000 people and found that 75% wanted their employers to allow them to continue to work remotely at least some of the time, while 54% wanted it to be their main form of working after COVID-19, reports Management Today.

Marco Icardi, President for Europe, MetricStream, in his article, ‘After lockdown: Putting people first’, suggested, “While it is important that companies adopt these measures to help reduce the spread of the disease, they should also strongly consider how individuals may be feeling during this challenging time.” “To establish new policies, companies should involve their workforce in the decision-making… Although there are practical measures that companies can take to regain ‘normality’, the priority should be on their employees’ wellbeing,” he added.

With the acceleration of technologies like Zoom, Slack, and Teams, communication has gotten more structured and explicit. “Leaders must ask direct questions about what’s working and what isn’t, “ notes Amy Edmondson, professor, Harvard Business School, in a conversation with McKinsey. “We can’t be positively infectious with others unless we’re feeling inspired and sustained ourselves first. That’s what leaders managing high-stress positions need to do to take care of themselves and to then involve and take care of others,” adds Richard Boyatzis, Professor, Case Western Reserve University.

Enhanced awareness around mental health in the workplace

Although, mental health was a vital topic of discussion prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 helped amplify the issues around mental health and well-being, especially in workplaces. Uber introduced a global ‘Employee Assistance Program,’ that provides confidential counseling services to its employees and their family members to deal with stress and anxiety, Capgemini also started a guided meditation series, Ceat Tyres came up with an initiative called Cofit-20 to offer fitness and mental wellbeing session to employees. We at MetricStream, also started a mindfulness session focused on helping people towards their overall wellbeing.

Perhaps, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought physical and mental well-being to centerstage. Investing in the mental health of employees, will eventually lead to a more productive and engaged workforce. Experts suggest that acknowledging and addressing employee grief helps people build resilience. This probably is the biggest opportunity for companies to rebuild organizational health and overcome the stigma around discussions on mental and emotional health.