Caring about your employees and what they’re going through will spell success for your company. 34 Strong COO Darren Virassammy tells us how.
Your employees have families. They have lives outside of work. These facts may have been more obvious during the last year, when you’ve seen inside their homes on video conferences—perhaps even with interruption from their kids or the family dog from time to time—but it’s always been true. Not only should you care about your employees’ personal lives because it’s the human thing to do, showing that compassion can pay countless dividends in the long-term success of the business. Darren Virassammy, COO of 34 Strong, shared with BOSS how to better connect with your employees as humans and why the companies that do so will find lasting benefits.
Compassion and KPIs
Achieving work-life balance is especially challenging these days. As an employer or manager, it’s still perfectly reasonable to have productivity expectations of your employees, Virassammy says, but you have to understand that the process of hitting KPIs might be different. With kids at home for virtual schooling, an 8-5 work schedule might not work for parents. If they have flexibility in their hours, they can still hit their targets. Results still matter, but to get them, managers might have to change their approach.
‘There’s a great book called ‘Strengths Based Leadership.’ It identifies the four needs of followers. Those needs are trust, compassion, stability, and hope,” Virassammy said.
If there were ever a time to check in on your staff, it’s now. Compassion is a huge currency in a period where parents are juggling remote work and school.
“If we operate on ‘business as usual,’ that sends a terrible signal,” he said. “The big ripple here goes beyond today. On the flip of this (pandemic), people will remember how they’ve been treated and how the company adapted in terms of flex schedules and working around their needs and not making them feel like, ‘You’re failing at work and you’re failing as a parent.’”
Some meetings have to take place on a certain schedule, but where you can, be flexible on schedules. Even when in meetings, encouraging your employees to take a walk during the call can help with their frame of mind. Allowing them a mental health day every once in a while can pay off as well. There’s a direct correlation between well-being and engagement.
The old-school mentality that management means looking over people’s shoulders needs to go. “You’re micromanaging people,” Virassammy said. “What that communicates is, ‘I don’t trust you. I don’t have any compassion for you. I’m sorry that your kid’s home now, you just have to deal with it.’”
Engagement = Profit
Adding that extra burden of stress makes employees disengaged and harms performance. High engagement, meanwhile, translates directly to increased performance and profitability, reduced employee turnover, reduced safety incidents in manual labor jobs.
“It hits the bottom line in so many areas,” Virassammy said. “We can see people as people. We can value them for their contributions at work and how important it is for them to also make those contributions at home. In that place, a lot of times we will attract and retain better talent over time.”
Glassdoor and other review sites make it easy for employees to rate their companies. Talented job-seekers will know going into an interview what your employees think about you. The companies that choose to adapt and take care of their people now are more likely to be thriving a few years down the line than those that don’t.
“This pandemic has taught employees what they can want and demand in a workplace as we’re going forward. That’s going to be a big part of what the best employees are going to want, not thought of as perks, but thought of as a functional way to work and to show both sides, ‘We trust each other. We care about each other. We can work together on this.’”
The Parent Trap
Child-rearing is a challenge even in normal times that disproportionately affects female employees. More often than not they’re the ones leaving the workforce when their children are young, maybe rejoining later at a cost to them and the employer. The pandemic has exacerbated that.
Leading companies are creating committees and protocols to understand what working moms are facing and how to help them remain productive employees.
“Are there opportunities to shift the work schedule? Is there opportunity to maybe reduce the work hours if that is something people might want?” Virassammy said. “Instead of a mom leaving the workforce altogether, maybe we’re able to adjust.”
Having those conservations rather than being rigid about the way things have to be can help retain good workers.
Some companies have also set up webinars on parenting and raising kids in chaotic times, he said. Helping parents see their value and discover their parenting strengths rather than being their own worst critics, as noted in the recently released book Incredible Parent, will keep them engaged on the job and at home.
Back to the Office, or Not
Companies reopening their offices need to bear a few things in mind.
“We’ve got to ask the question, ‘Does everybody need to be back in the office?’ Or do we have some that are able to come into the office and some that aren’t? Can we do part-time telecommute, part of the time in the office?”
Some employees might not have a great home setup and are thrilled to come back to the office, others might still have complex home situations to manage, such as children or parents to take care of. Some maybe have just found a groove working from home that suits them much better than an office setting. Flexibility is the name of the game.
It’s important for managers to identify employees’ individual styles, what’s working for them and where they might be struggling. For remote employees, you have to recreate some of those casual personal conversations that used to happen organically in the office. Every conversation about a project update can include a discussion of how things are going at home and what they might need to transition back to the workplace or to be productive at home for the long term.
After the Pandemic
Leaders, Virassammy says, need to message, model, and mirror the culture they want to have. Many companies profess to want to attract the best talent and set the standards for their industries.
“The actions that we’re taking right now will help guide and set up the culture of the future,” he said. How companies treat their employees now will reveal whether they live up to the values they project externally to their customers. Do they practice what they preach? Are the leaders of the company displaying that attitude in leadership team meetings? Is that trickling down from managers to employees?
“I’m actually optimistic because of the challenges we’ve been through over the course of the past year,” he said. Companies that have demonstrated a caring culture have built up so much goodwill and human capital that they’re set up to retain and attract top talent. He gave the example of 34 Strong client Cascade Health, which revamped its culture and employee engagement so much they didn’t need 34 Strong consulting services anymore and actually wrote their own study.
“For us as a consulting company, that’s exactly our goal and our measure of success is when we are no longer needed,” Virassammy said.
Moving forward, leaders and employees can identify their grind, greatness, and genius zones to play to individual and collective strengths. People might be good at certain tasks in their grind zone but having to do it over and over might still cause burnout. What is a struggle for one person might be the strength of another.
“When we start paying attention to those respective areas, what we start to see is people engage a little bit more. That’s not to say that you’re going to eliminate all of people’s grind. But as we reduce those, people have a lot more to offer in their greatness zone and genius zone,” he said. “When you spend the time digging into those, a lot of the fires that you might have been putting out, the solutions oftentimes present themselves.”
We’re only human, and we have a lot going on. Embracing that through the pandemic and beyond will be the hallmark of the companies that come out smiling on the other side.