Water cooler talk and in-person meetings are a thing of the past, at least for the time being. Catching up and circulating company news is still important though, especially if you want to keep your employees engaged and feeling confident about your business’s ability to weather this storm. You need to be the conduit of news and what’s next – otherwise, you can count on the rumor mill to take your place. This is true no matter if you’re managing a handful of workers or hundreds of employees.

Whether or not you were/are shut down, if people are on-site or working from home, or are considered essential or non-essential, every person you’re responsible for will want to know what’s next. It’s important that you control the narrative on back to work plans, safety procedures in the office and on the job site, and what the future looks like.

Clear communication is key to ensuring you’re stressed out and rattled workforce believes in the future of your company and projects, and the role they’ll play moving forward.

As your organization navigates its COVID-19 journey, here are a few practices to keep in mind:

Communication is Key
There is no excuse in today’s tech-driven world to not communicate with your employees. A simple weekly email reaching out to your people will go a long way toward creating a bit of ease. If you’ve been doing this already, great. And if you haven’t, it’s not too late to start. There are simple templates like this one online to get the ball rolling.

Including simple reminders on your company’s on-site and/or virtual protocols are a good idea too. This could include safety procedures upon entering the office, or the steps to log in and out of the system each day. Some companies are including video messages from senior-level leaders, links to online resources, and recognition of employees who are going above and beyond. CURT has inspirational messages on its YouTube Channel from past keynote speakers Chef Jeff and Brett Culp – please share these positive videos with your teams.

Keep in mind though, you don’t have to be fancy. A simple email update at the start or end of each week will go a long way in creating a cohesive workforce.

Be Sensitive

Do you know where your staff is at mentally? So many factors will play into how your team is doing, from your region’s current COVID counts to your state’s re-entry plans, to whether or not your team members were laid off during the outbreak, to back to school plans for their children, to whether or not family and friends have been affected. Some employees will enthusiastically embrace returning to the office, and others will want to stay as far away as possible. Many will land somewhere in between.

According to the American Psychological Association, the average stress level reported in the 2019 Annual Stress in America survey was 4.9 out of 10. The latest data puts that number at 5.4, which is significantly higher and marks the first sizable increase in average reported stress since the survey began in 2007. When it comes to stress-related directly to the pandemic, the average reported stress level for U.S. adults is 5.9.

Adding to stress levels is the fact that your employee’s children have, or are going to be, returning to school. Over 70 percent of parents have reported that managing distance/online learning for their children is a significant source of stress. This number is likely to grow no matter if students physically go back to school, or if they are expected to learn from home.

Future concerns, like a recession and job insecurity, are also impacting peoples’ mental health. This needs to be taken seriously; trade on your job sites are using heavy equipment and power tools. Their mental health must be a priority. There is a great article on this topic in the latest issue of CURT’s magazine, The VOICE. You can read it for free, here, starting on page 22.

Here are some steps you can take to ease your employees’ minds:

  • Survey them regularly so you know where they’re at. Focus on psychological readiness and practical concerns (safety, childcare, etc.).
  • If you’re not back in the office, be transparent with back to work plans. Let people know who is working on it and when announcements will be made. Talk about what you know, what you’re not sure of, and when you expect to have concrete answers on the items that aren’t firmed up. Remember, if you don’t address it (even if you don’t have all the answers), the rumor mill will.
  • Talk about what employees can expect. Are masks now required on local transportation in the job site area? What will the safety steps be upon coming inside the office or onto the project site? Repetition is important, as are on-location materials to remind everyone what protocol is once they’re back.

Ask for feedback and address concerns, either individually or as a bigger group (if many are identifying an issue, then chances are even more are thinking it but are not expressing their concerns).

Address Emotions

As the pandemic continues, your team members will have dealt with varying amounts of trauma.  Leaders need to acknowledge what has been lost because even top-performing teams will seem tone-deaf if they’re not authentic about the pandemic’s emotional toll. Specific messaging and actions will, of course, depend on levels of loss, circumstances, and context.

Here are some steps to address employee’s emotions:

  • Lead conversations but note, this is not work that can be delegated. Serious trauma, like the death of an employee, must be addressed from the top down.
  • Celebrate your past successes and future endeavors. Most people want to feel like they are contributing to the greater good – that they’re at work and away from their families for a good reason. Make it easy for them to find these nuggets of success.
  • Recognize and honor anyone who may have lost their life due to COVID-19. This may include people outside your business, including contractor partners, suppliers, or customers who your employees know well.

 CURT Resources

Next week CURT is hosting its August Summits virtually – we’d like you to “attend” – from the comfort of your home or office!

  • August 24 is the International Construction Summit;
  • August 25 is the members-only meeting; and
  • August 26 is the Off-site Construction Summit and the Workforce Development Summit.

Registration for each Summit is $99, features leading industry experts, and will discuss many important themes, including COVID-related topics pertinent to each over-arching discussion. Learn more about each event and register at https://www.curt.org/events/.

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