Balancing the Tension Between Business and People During Covid-19

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The ‘normalcy’ in how businesses operate has been greatly disrupted following the COVID-19 pandemic. An important aspect of business experiencing difficulty in this time is the relationship between leaders and employees. The concerns of these two parties appear to be so far removed from each other at this time.

Employees have at the top of their minds; staying safe, potential loss of their job, supporting relatives who may have already lost theirs (…this is Africa), homeschooling, and challenges brought about by remote working.  Business leaders, on the other hand, are hard-pressed to attend to; maintaining their revenue streams, meeting the company’s obligations (rent, salaries, taxes, etc.), innovating around the new normal, employee productivity, possible retrenchment of employees and the effect of poor economic performance on business. 

How can a business leader attend to the demands of the business and adequately address the concerns of the employee in this time of crisis? What is the point of convergence between the two tensions?  The right response to this dilemma is LEADERSHIP.  Here are some quick and impactful leadership tips that will be of benefit in this season:

  • Prioritize your employees’ health and well-being: Be conscious to not be carried away with the pressure of getting things done and staying afloat. Consistently remind yourself that your safety and that of your employees ALWAYS comes first. For those who are working from the office, provide masks, re-organize the office set-up to ensure social distancing, allow sufficient time to get home before curfew, listen to the personal challenges experienced in getting to and from the office and offer solutions where possible. Provide information on prevention and safety measures that may be available and provide psychological support if needed.  This will demonstrate that you do not only care about what the staff deliver but are concerned about their well-being.

If staff are working from home, encourage informal online hangouts. This could be a happy hour where people bring their drink to the call and catch up, it could be online trivia and challenges or sharing jokes.  This allows for continued interaction between staff in an informal way and thereby maintain team bonding.

  • Show empathy and be honest: Acknowledge the fears the employees may have in terms of their own job security and their health. Be honest about the state of the business performance and some of the actions the business may need to take. It is said that ‘a leader’s role is to define reality, then give hope” Napoleon Bonaparte. Communicate that some of the decisions you make may not be popular or what you want but practical decisions must be made at this time.
  • Communicate with clarity:  Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead speaks of how we at times avoid being clear because we think we are being kind when we are actually being unkind and unfair. She summarised it as ‘Clear is kind and unclear is unkind’. Though it may be uncomfortable, endeavor to be clear in your communication. Keep updating your team on the way forward as things develop/change. Your team will appreciate it.
  • Dare to be vulnerable and acknowledge your own uncertainties and fears.  It’s okay to express your lack of certainty on certain matters. This may help the employees appreciate that you may not have all the answers but you are trying your best. This helps to build trust and creates employee engagement.
  • Provide avenues for people to voice their concerns, suggestions, ideas, and fears.  Avenues that allow employees to feel heard go a long way.  They not only allow team members a chance to air their concerns but create opportunities for collective innovation as the team members bounce ideas off each other.  Encourage a structured and unstructured ‘checking in’ culture. A simple and authentic, ‘how are you/we doing?’ asked before the start of your meetings can be greatly impactful.

At the end of the day, while the environment has created unprecedented challenges for businesses, leadership must still find ways to show concern and care for the employees to ensure that by the time COVID-19 is over, you still have engaged employees who are willing to exert discretionary effort towards contributing to the organization’s achievements.