In June 2020 we launched our Crisis Culture Insight report, based on feedback from over 125 organisations on how COVID-19 was affecting their culture and day-to-day operations. As we prepare to launch our follow-up report in January 2021, we share initial findings from the survey and insights from our consultants on what we’ve been hearing so far.
Unsurprisingly, organisations are still facing challenges around communications, mental health and wellbeing, risk and compliance, and when planning for the future…
During the first wave, organisations found their focus was on managing the situation. It was very reactive. This time around, organisations have systems and processes in place to help them.
We’ve noticed an appetite for our masterclasses on how to improve virtual meeting engagement. Virtual meetings have helped change the mindset of people who preferred office working and face to face meetings.
But workforces are becoming weary of the constant formal communications and are missing those casual conversations – those opportunities for leadership to gather undercover intelligence.
In her role as a Consultant at Tribe, Ella NilaKanthi Ford is constantly talking to clients and organisations. She says, “We’re seeing the traditional lines of communication broken down and not replaced with viable alternatives. People are just making do and engagement and interaction are missing.
“Normally, communications are emailed out to a workforce in the hope they get read but we’re seeing even more fragmentation. People are working in hierarchical bubbles and collaboration is missing. When people collaborate, innovation takes place but people are working in entrenched silos at the moment.”
We’ve seen from the initial survey findings that decision making isn’t always shared more widely. It’s leading to frustration and increasing disengagement among the workforce.
Clare Solomon, Creative Director at Tribe, has been interviewing clients for the next Crisis Culture Insight report. She says, “Decision making is often based on the facts. With little travel allowed and the limitations of virtual meetings, clients are noticing a tendency for decisions to be made based on perception and emotions.
“So when people are asked, “what’s the driving need for that?” they can’t answer with practical or tactical examples, or first-hand accounts.”
Mental health and wellbeing
From the client conversations carried out by Mark Ormond, Managing Director, he’s seen that in all interviews, workforce mental health is a concern.
“There are increasing mental health issues within workforces,” he says. “To counter this, lots more open conversations are taking place. That’s great, but is it enough? Managers are being asked to make time for people’s mental health but most – at the best of times – are ill equipped to ask the right questions and deal with the answers. Working virtually vastly increases this human shortcoming.”
As stress and anxiety are becoming more widespread, many are experiencing far more extreme reactions than they would pre-COVID. Some people who are normally calm and considered are reacting more emotionally and with a lack of clarity leading to disagreements.
There is also emotional exhaustion, especially among leaders. Everyone is feeling the strain of relentlessly carrying on regardless – particularly those who haven’t been furloughed. Managing and motivating a disparate, increasingly disengaged or ‘flat’ workforce, and operating in crisis mode for so long is taking its toll.
“Senior leaders are overstretched. From talking to contacts, I’ve heard of some leadership members off sick with depression.”
There is also the seasonal impact. During the first Lockdown, in large parts of the globe, we were heading towards summer. The days were long and we could be outside. This time around, it’s cold and dark and there’s a feeling of the situation dragging on uncertainly. People who would usually cycle to work can’t because of working from home and, with gyms closed, the weather makes exercising outdoors unappealing. As we know, exercise and getting outdoors improve our mental health.
Approach to risk
Risk mindset appears to be polarised. Kanthi has noticed a level of complacency creeping in: “With this second Lockdown, people thought they’d be more prepared but they hadn’t anticipated the lack of workforce engagement.”
This may be attributed to less visible leadership and/or a reduction in safety auditing. Whatever the reason, some organisations are experiencing a spike in near misses.
And yet others are noticing an improvement in compliance since the start of the crisis. They report more awareness about working safely and what ‘at risk’ behaviour is.
Clare has listened to interviewees talk about global differences across regions. She says, “Some regions appear to be a lot more fearful of COVID-19 than others. For example, my conversations revealed that organisations operating in Italy are noticing higher levels of fear amongst their workforce. This is based on the country’s early experiences of COVID-19. Likewise, in countries with poorer health systems, levels of fear are higher and so compliance is too.”
Mark has noted a positive outcome around the role of Health, Safety and Wellbeing teams as a result of the crisis.
“Some people are now more engaged with their Health and Safety team. We’re hearing they’re now being asked for their advice and opinion. People are keen to know how their team can help and it’s increasing the profile of Health and Safety within organisations.”
Organisational culture and planning
Kanthi raises the issue of how the crisis has affected business agility. She says, “Some organisations appear to be going slower than pre-COVID while others have really embraced it. This may be because the pandemic hit so quickly and organisations jumped to react like they never had before. Now they know it is possible to be agile.”
“Also, from speaking to my contacts, some organisations gained people at very senior levels. It takes three months for someone to be assimilated into a new business culture and they just haven’t had the time to adapt. They needed to lead and drive based on what they know as opposed to the organisational culture they’ve come into. It has an impact on an organisation.”
There is a lot on uncertainty facing organisations at the moment – not only caused by the pandemic but economic pressures too. Scenario planning is proving challenging and safety budgets are being cut.
Mark says, “People don’t know what the new normal will be. Take the retail sector as an example. They were planning for everyone buying online by 2030 but this vision has been accelerated as a result of this year. Working from home is now seen as the new normal but the longer this continues, the number feeling disengaged and disaffected will only increase.”
Does this ring true with your experience of the second wave? Or perhaps you have a different viewpoint to add.
We are still holding interviews and receiving survey results to inform our next Crisis Culture Insight report and you can have your experiences included in our findings.
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Commercial and Creative Director, Tribe Culture Change