HR & Management

smes lockdown laws
Published

Can workplace culture survive the legacy of COVID-19?

5 Mins

Vault Platform CEO, Neta Meidav discusses workplace culture and how to preserve the best of it after coronavirus…

As the shift to remote working has taken hold as a result of coronavirus, employers and HR departments are exposing a widening trust gap between themselves and employees. Many are being overwhelmed with inbound concerns from staff and workplace culture is at risk of evaporating due to the removal of face-to-face interaction.

What’s more is that in many instances, cracks were already present in workplace culture. The use of legacy tools such as anonymous hotlines for reporting misbehaviour and open-door policies were a ‘check-list’ activity that left huge numbers of people feeling disincentivised to speak up about their concerns.

This left many enterprises with an ‘iceberg’ of risk that was only revealed when a disgruntled employee took their concern to social media or the press. Now, in a remote working environment without the means to effectively communicate with their superiors, the current situation could see workplace culture fail to recover if not properly addressed.

Some of the key questions being faced by employers at this time are:

1. How can you support the wellbeing of your employees when working remotely?

The outbreak of COVID-19 has put the global population under a huge amount of stress, and the move to social distancing has increased the risk of individuals experiencing anxiety and depression on an unprecedented scale. According to the Health and Safety Executive, one in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point. Now, these numbers can be expected to rise dramatically compounded by isolation, recession, and job insecurity.

2. How can you and your staff communicate effectively?

The importance of effective communication at work has never been higher. Unfortunately, with new solutions come new problems. The natural choice for most organisations has been to shift to online workplace collaborations tools, however, figures from before the outbreak of COVID-19 showed some 30% of complaints were rooted in aggression on tools like these.

The concern is that interpersonal misconduct such as discrimination, bullying, and harassment will now move online and such figures can be expected to peak during the pandemic.

The pandemic had already seen a rise in face-to-face discrimination. Trade unions have already been forced to warn of an increase in discrimination at work, particularly against people of Asian heritage as a result of Coronavirus. Meanwhile, advice from ACAS goes so far as to say: “Employers must not treat an employee differently because of their race or ethnicity”.

Last year it was revealed that 1 in 4 adults had experienced cyberbullying and in the workplace, up to 75% of workplace misconduct goes unreported, highlighting the need for immediate action to tackle misconduct.

3. How can we sustain a workplace culture moving beyond the crisis?

Whether or not the pandemic marks an epochal shift in the relationship between humans and technology or even the interaction between humans, the need for safeguards to protect the mental health of the masses has never been more significant.

It is clear that some level of human interaction is needed and technology will not replace this, but it can act as a helping hand rather than a hindrance. The time for new solutions that replace outdated and ineffective tools to create a workplace culture of speaking up and rebuilding trust between employees and their organisations has come.

To address these concerns, it is important to:

● Remind your employees of your organisation’s discrimination and harassment policies and ensure that these are adapted for a remote-first culture (i.e. how they apply to discrimination across messaging apps) and are easily available.

● Encourage a speak up culture: stigmatising issues (such as with race-related discrimination due to COVID-19) can be challenging for employees to report. Without effective reporting tools in place, many will suffer in silence.

● Take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment: Typically, employers will only avoid liability in the event of a discrimination case if they can show they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to protect employees, such as implementing an effective and secure solution for reporting sensitive issues that take place in person or digitally.

Only with these safeguards in place, will workplace culture survive.

Share this story

Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist, examines how SME bosses can be good leaders in this post lockdown world.
How to be a good leader post lockdown
From furlough to a four-day week? Stop the crazy talk
Send this to a friend