COVID-19 has upended our world as we knew it. However, some people have been disproportionately more challenged by the pandemic than others. Studies show that women in particular have been negatively impacted in the workplace. McKinsey’s report claims that the decisions that companies make today will have a profound impact on gender parity for decades to come.
With support systems such as childcare and school shifting to an online space at home, the pandemic has exacerbated challenges that women already faced. The McKinsey study, which surveyed over 40,000 people, showed that women – especially women of color – are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, more than one in four women, and one in three mothers, are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely; something that many of them would not have considered pre-pandemic. This is a significant blow in a world where progress towards gender parity, particularly in senior leadership roles, remains slow.
Gender parity in the workplace is a hot topic on International Women’s Day. That means, for many organizations, it will be 11 months before the subject is approached again. However, with this challenge of women being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic comes an opportunity for leaders. Creating a more flexible and empathetic working environment will nurture a company culture where all team members have equal opportunity to achieve their potential.
Here are some suggestions from the McKinsey report to reduce additional pressures that people in the workplace are experiencing:
Create a sustainable pace of working:
A sustainable pace of work is essential to managing stress and preventing burnout. To enforce this effectively, leaders need to assess productivity and performance expectations that were set pre-pandemic and then ask if they’re still realistic.
Additionally, companies have found creative ways to compensate for employees adjusting to the ‘always on’ mentality that is often synonymous with working from home. For example, offering ‘mental health days’ to give parents a chance to prepare for a new school term or for companies to close during a workday each quarter to give everyone an opportunity to recharge. Acknowledging that a day of rest is needed following a busy period demonstrates empathy in leaders and may result in increased employee engagement.
Align leaders on new norms around flexibility:
The pandemic has blurred the lines of work and home. Companies should try to re-enforce boundaries to ensure work-life balance is maintained for all employees. All leaders should be aligned on these new norms to ensure a cohesive new culture is established throughout the organization.
Establishing new work norms that revolve around flexibility may include designating certain hours for meetings; reforming company policy on responding to emails outside business hours; assuring employees that their performance will be measured on results so that they are safe to create their own work-life boundaries; and leaders modeling flexibility in their own lives to set an example.
Strengthen employee communication:
Honest and frequent communication with employees is vital to establish and maintain trust and support in leadership. McKinsey’s study shows that one in five employees felt consistently uninformed as the pandemic unfolded. This suggests that an effective, empathetic communication strategy should be established to inform team members of key decisions that affect their work and lives, and what this news means for all employees. A consistent and honest line of communication will help to manage employee’s expectations and allow them to prepare for change.
Building an effective, honest company culture that is supported by empathy and flexibility does not happen overnight. It is a long-term strategy that must remain fluid and consider the environmental pressures that employees face. Reach out to our LHH Gulf team today and we can start your journey towards a more efficient and inclusive workplace.