“I’m overwhelmed,” the supervisor said when he called. “Senior management pressures us to maintain high levels of productivity, but nearly a fourth of our employees call in sick every morning. On our last all-manager Zoom call, our CEO said our sales are down and made it clear we’re expected to handle our employees’ anxiety and get them refocused on their work.”
“What about my stress? Every time an employee pokes his head in my door, I know I’ll hear a complaint or get handed a resignation. Omicron sent us all into a tailspin. I supervise employees who fear they risk infection every day they come to work. And I’m supposed to convince them to work harder? Do you have a magic bullet?”
Here’s what I offered the supervisor.
Supervisors in the vise
You’re not alone. Supervisors in many organizations have been caught in a vise between upper managers who demand high levels of productivity and exhausted employees voting with their feet out the door. If you remain silent, the vise might continue squeezing until you flatten.
Communicate the reality and the limits
Senior managers, caught in their own vise due to escalating costs and declining revenue, understandably push the mid-managers under them to do more with less.
But there are limits, and if your senior management lives in a bubble where they assume you can get more out of exhausted, disheartened employees then realistic, diplomatically provide them the facts. If you fear honesty might risk your job, forward half a dozen “great resignation” and “turnover tsunami” articles off the Internet to your senior managers, and let them know how retention at your company parallels national statistics.
Throughout the pandemic, supervisors have functioned like human duct tape, keeping the workplace patched as they’ve helped employees navigate through this situation none of us expected nor where prepared to handle. Spend time with them, hear them out, and act where you can even in little ways, as that means a lot to employees who feel alone with their stresses. Decide who needs to work onsite and explain why. Decide who can remain working from home and let them know what they need to do to earn continued flexibility.
Provide employees the safest environment possible
At different times during the pandemic, we assumed we’d get to a solid, safe “new normal.” As COVID continues to make its way through the Greek alphabet, we need to drop the “no risk” myth and come to grips with a shifting reality.
Workplaces carry a risk we can mitigate but not eliminate. Given that reality, employees need to know their employer will put in place every possible safety protocol.
Although it’s increasingly difficult to get pandemic-weary individuals to wear masks and socially distance, use your influence to keep every employee safe. When I entered a workplace a week ago, I noticed many employees wore their masks loosely, offering protection in name only. If we’re to keep employees safe, we all need to do better.
Work with leadership to chart your way forward
Each company needs to communicate to employees a clear risk tolerance calculation. Will you allow unvaccinated employees in the workplace? If so, will unvaccinated employees be required to work remotely only or to test each time they enter the workplace and keep their masks on? How will you take care of vaccinated employees who wonder why unvaccinated employees are able to snap up all the remote work opportunities? How does the Omicron surge and the Center for Disease Control’s recent guidance halving the quarantine period impact your safety protocols? What does your organization need to do to make hybrid work?
Each organization needs to chart a clear course so that all employees know what to expect if they stay — as do you.
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