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A Psychological Approach To Management And Leadership After A Socioeconomic Crisis

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Matt Wujciak

employee engagement

Editor’s Note: This 15-minute read provides first-hand insights from WSJ and NYT bestselling author, Shep Hyken, CBS talk show host, Thuzio Co-founder and former NFL running back, Tiki Barber, Centrical CEO, Gal Rimon, CCW Digital Writer and Analyst, Matt Wujciak, #1 Keynote Speaker On Transforming Transactions Into Relationships, Scotty Werner, as well as research conducted by CCW Digital, the Harvard Business Review, Qualtrics, and the Stanford Business School of Graduate. This article will serve as your complete guide to managing and leading employees, not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but after a socioeconomic crisis.

In the past few months, we’ve been thrown a curveball. The pitcher wasn’t on the scouting report and many of us have struck out. But there are innings left to be played. The game is not over. 

Before we adjust our game plan, let’s address the curveball we’ve been thrown. On December 31, 2019, China alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) to several cases of “unusual pneumonia” in Wuhan. Less than 10 weeks later, the stock market faced its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis

I’ve reiterated this stat several times in the past few months, but it’s an important one, considering few seem to be adapting smoothly to their readjusted game plan. Many of us are missing the mark. In fact, as I arrived at my new office this morning (my kitchen) and greeted my co-worker (a black lab named Charlie), I received a Twitter notification from CNN that stated another 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the week ending April 18th. Managers are losing this game. 

Of course we have been dealt an unfortunate hand. Of course we are trying to win a game that isn’t over. But it’s a very long season and long-term success is not unobtainable – if you have the right mindset that is. 

As the world’s leading customer experience and customer service influencer, NYT, WSJ bestselling author, and CCW Digital advisory board member, Shep Hyken recently told me:

 If there is something to consider, it is a shift from reacting to what we’re going to do coming out of this crisis…. With ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ what are companies doing to prepare to get back to normal? How are they going to manage their teams to come back? What are they doing to get their customers ready to return? I think we need to start focusing on the ‘coming back’ strategy.

And he’s right. It’s time to start taking a long-term, macro approach to our business continuity plans (BCP), financial forecasting, and ultimately, the customer experiences we plan to provide consumers - not only during challenging times, but after the pandemic dies down and we begin to rebuild. And it starts with employee engagement. 

Addressing a new global pandemic: burnout

Qualtrics recently provided our analysts with a study published earlier this month that is worth highlighting. The report is interestingly titled The Other COVID-19 Crisis: Mental Health, as it discusses the effects the pandemic is having on employees’ psychological motivation, productivity, and ultimately, the customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) that every business is advertently or inadvertently centered around. According to the report, 57.2% of workers feel more anxious since the outbreak. In fact, over half feel more emotionally exhausted and more irritable. And it’s influencing how they interact with consumers, how they’re shaping your businesses’ customer experience, and the revenue your accountants are penciling in. 

However, more than half of workers (65.8%) feel that company communications help them take action for their well-being, having a direct correlation on productivity levels, CSAT scores, and revenue. 

The term “burnout” originated in the 1970s as psychology became a popular approach to employee management, and for the past 50 years, the medical community has argued about how to define it. As the debate grows increasingly contentious in the past three months, a resurfaced WHO announcement may have caused more confusion than clarity. A few years ago, WHO included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and immediately the public assumed that burnout would now be considered a medical condition. It’s not. The WHO then put out an urgent clarification stating, “Burn-out is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition… reasons for which people contact health services but that are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.” 

Fast forward to Q2 of 2020. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement, psychological motivation, productivity, or business continuity planning for that matter. Now more than ever, we tend to think of corporate burnout as an individual problem, solvable by “learning to say no,” more yoga, better breathing techniques, looking in the mirror and saying “I’m going to be great today” — the self-help list goes on. However, evidence is mounting that applying personal, Band-Aid solutions to an evolving workplace phenomenon may be harming our game plan more than helping it. With “burnout” now officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the responsibility for managing it and lowering associated costs has shifted away from solely an individual towards the individual and collective organizational culture, to drive connectivity and psychological engagement. That’s the key for leaders managing employees during the pandemic and after the socioeconomic crisis. That’s how we start building an employee-centric business continuity plan that drives organizational connectivity and revenue.

The financial implications of productivity

“…Always treat your employees how you want your customers treated—maybe even better. I’ve preached this one for a long time and it’s one of my favorites. The experience starts at the top. Set an example of the behavior you want employees to exhibit to their customers and colleagues,” Shep recently told me, truly embodying a top-down approach to management. 

When Stanford researchers looked into how workplace stress affects productivity and health costs in the United States, they found that it led to spending of nearly $190 billion — roughly 8% of national  healthcare outlays — and annual global workforce costs estimated at $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. 

If those statistics aren’t telling enough, consider the fact that companies without systems to support the well-being of their employees have higher turnover, lower productivity, and higher healthcare costs, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). In high-pressure firms, healthcare costs are 50% greater than at other organizations. Additionally, each year, 550 million work days are lost due to stress on the job. Another study by the APA claims that burned-out employees are 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job, and 63% more likely to take a sick day. 

Employee engagement and productivity is the driving factor of any business continuity plan, stemming from a managerial top-down approach to empowering our employees and holding them accountable for how they communicate with customers. 

“The sense of isolation for employees is very real and extra efforts must be made to have them feel connected, engaged and confident. The business cliché of ‘the only constant is change’ is so right now. Business volatility is to the extreme,” Gal Rimon, Centrical Founder & CEO recently told me in an upcoming CCW Digital report on crisis management. 

A manager cannot simply look up and see if an employee is overstressed, overworked or overeating to their detriment right now. We have to engage them, frequently, to manage effectively when front-line employees and supervisors are working remotely, and when they resume on site. And we need to make it bi-directional to overcome a sense of isolation with a sense of connectedness. 

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted a need for employee engagement during the pandemic – but one that will become evident after the pandemic. The psychological concept has a direct correlation with not only employee productivity, but ultimately, customer satisfaction, costs, and revenue. “With the light at the end of the tunnel,” as Shep describes, prioritize this concept in your BCP not only during pandemonium, remote times and economic misfortune, but after it

Putting people first

“Everything starts from the top down. Leadership has buy-in to the customer service experience. the managers and front-line will buy in as well.. Leadership empowers the customer service professionals to make a difference.” - Scotty Werner, #1 Keynote Speaker On Transforming Transactions Into Relationships recently told me.

Hard-charging cost savings and profit motives that may have previously served an organization well could backfire in the current environment. In a recent survey by the public relations firm Edelman, 71% of respondents said they would lose trust in a brand forever if they believed it was putting profit over people – a true double-edged sword. The reaction to companies perceived as having done so has been punishing and swift and swift lately. The Harvard Business Review recently provided a couple of applicable examples: 

Within 24 hours of cutting staff members’ pay, the owners of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers admitted they had made mistake, apologized, and reversed course, largely to avoid a backlash. The owners of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and their home arena, TD Garden, were slower to react and got brutalized in the media as a result, negatively affecting their brand reputation and customer satisfaction.

When the food delivery service GrubHub rolled out a discount for customers ordering online to support restaurants struggling in the pandemic, it forced restaurants to bear the discount’s brunt, drawing ire from restaurants and customers and sparking calls for a boycott.

Speed trumps perfection

Right now, the world is changing fast and leaders are moving swiftly to stabilize and reposition their businesses. The wrong strategic decisions can get in the way of these agile pivots. Our egos tend to be attached to our past successes and how things used to be. When everything gets upended, and our past successes and usual approaches are suddenly not relevant anymore, our businesses’ egos suffer as we attempt to make up for lost time. We begin to hold on even tighter to the business continuity we used to know and understand, as opposed to taking a macro approach to brand reputation, employee investment, and customer satisfaction. 

Of course, temporary selflessness and employee engagement must be balanced with self-confidence. A manager’s teams must feel their sense of confidence in the strategy they are executing against. When we’re able to marry conviction with freedom from ego, we instill a deep sense of trust and psychological safety in our organization. When that happens, every part of our organization feels empowered to take calculated risks, adapt, innovate and move with the speed of the crisis to come out stronger on the other side.

As Tiki Barber recently told me regarding Thuzio’s business plan, “This idea of interconnectivity, regardless of affiliation, regardless of whether you’re a democrat or a republican, whether you’re a Giants fan or a Jets fan, there’s idea of interconnectivity that exists in our world, in our societies, in our business communities.”

“Coach Coughlin at the time, told us this season better mean something and everything you do better be done with a purpose… I don’t believe in coincidences. All of these things happen for a reason,” he said, referring to a personal crisis. “[Founding] Thuzio was a vehicle for me, to not only express the highs and lows of my career, but the emotional side as well, which makes you connect to other people.”

“You can be an executive looking to hit a correlated number, whatever that may be. And on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday you may be working towards that number but you don’t have delivery. As an athlete, your judgement is immediate. You know on a Sunday if you’re playing football or a Tuesday if you’re playing baseball you know whether you did your job or that iteration of your job. The lesson is immediate. The reason for success and failure are immediate and when you replicate that over and over you start to create a narrative.”

Whether you’re a coach, captain, influencer, politician, manager, or front-line employee, leadership and management is about motivating and engaging a collective group of individuals around you to drive that delivery. When we learn how to do this in a socioeconomic crisis, we empower the people around us to produce synergistic results after one.

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