The Return from Lockdown – Keeping your people safe

As business leaders plan to come out of lock-down, they face the daunting challenge of taking their people with them into uncharted territory. The pressure on leaders is enormous, with many facing threats to business survival and the need to rapidly reimagine the steps to re-opening.

The pressure on leaders is enormous, with many facing threats to business survival and the need to rapidly reimagine the steps to re-opening. In such times leaders can veer towards two unhelpful polarities; push through on the new business plan, and leave their people disengaged, or overly focus on protecting their people and under prepare the business in facing up to the new world that lies ahead.

So, as you plan your return out of lockdown, we’d suggest understanding your people is key. They will experience a wide range of feelings, depending on the nature of your plan for each team member. David Rock’s SCARF model (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) provides a useful framework for understanding how they might be feeling.

Some – perhaps younger staff – may be more relaxed about the physical threats. But for many, if not most, returning involves a perception of increased threat from Covid-19, as we come out of the safety of our homes into closer proximity with each other. The combination of physical threat, with reduced Autonomy and Certainty could produce a powder keg of anger and anxiety, particularly if business leaders impose their plans without sufficient consultation, communication and consent.

Alongside this people will be concerned about their financial security and their position in the business. Do I have a job? Has my role changed? Has my level of influence and power changed? These all speak to Status concerns, which will be magnified for staff who are furloughed, and may wonder if redundancy is the next stop on this journey.

As we come out of a relative safe ‘bubble’, people will need Certainty about their safety in their work environment. At the heart of this are some very strong drivers, leading to questions like “can I keep myself safe?” and “what measures will be in place that will mean I’ll be exposed to minimal risk?”. They will also be seeking autonomy to make their own choices, wanting to know “What level of consent do I have here? What freedom do I have within my day to day role to manage my own personal safety?”

These considerations will impact the relationship with their leaders and employers – “Can I trust you to keep me safe?” If people’s needs for Relatedness and Fairness are met (as far as possible), then motivation, morale and mental health, not to mention productivity will be enormously enhanced. In such thriving environments the mood could become infectiously positive with a determination to face down the difficulties and challenges, if staff are involved in decisions and believe the correct actions are being taken for their own and customer safety.

Creating your plan

So what’s important in creating your out of lockdown plan? We’d recommend thinking about 3Cs:

Consult – Consult and involve your people, as widely across the business as possible. As a minimum, set up a task force that involves staff from different levels of the business to develop your return from lockdown game-plan and consider company wide consultation surveys.

Communicate – ensure all team members are communicated with individually. This is as much about listening and understanding the mood on the ground as it is about sharing the organization’s plans and intentions.

Consent – Consider how your game plan can build in some options for team members to make choices about their speed of return to the office. Give as much autonomy as possible to allow people to make choices about what is best for them and their families as well as the business.

Finally, balancing your business and people needs in a complex and challenging context is not easy. Remember the need to navigate through this together, both as a leadership team and as an entire business.

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