It’s almost Labor Day. In typical years, this three-day weekend is a time to gather to say good bye to summer, host a barbecue, take a dip in the water, or get households ready for a new school year. Historically, it’s the day we as a nation celebrate the achievements of American workers; an annual tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.
This year, nearly six months into an international pandemic, things are different. But if there’s one constant in life, it’s change.
The Industrial Revolution brought sweeping change to the lives of workers in the United States and across the globe, long before Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882. Scores of workers and union organizers fought for the first workplace protections, criminalizing unsafe conditions and employee abuse. Modern workplace laws, the most basic of which were passed as recently as 1935, are a direct result of workers speaking up and speaking out.
In this year, the strangest and scariest that most of us have experienced in our lifetimes, how do we celebrate the spirit of Labor Day, while acknowledging the collective struggle? As a workplace environments strategist, I think about employee experience all the time. Labor Day 2020 is our chance to put ourselves in our workers’ shoes. Here are three clear actions for leaders to take:
1) Check in with your people. Acknowledge the toll this year has taken, and open the door to ask for support. If your team is small enough, reach out individually, through a phone call or an email. If your team is larger, send a company-wide email, and invite team members to respond. Task managers with sending a personal follow up message to manage and respond to feedback from their teams. Offer a brief overview of why you’re reaching out, and why you’re inviting engagement. Make sure you focus on the individual, not their job function or company success. Include language that conveys, “These are very difficult times. How are you doing personally?”
2) Ask questions. Most people find it difficult to articulate their challenges, and even harder to ask for assistance. We can assume the causes of many of the struggles facing workers right now are similar. The necessity of continued work while homeschooling children and caring for aging family members while keeping everyone safe is taking a toll. It’s the effect these struggles create that are individual and personal. Ask questions like, “What are you struggling with most right now? Are there circumstances you feel comfortable sharing, knowing we may be able to help?” Make it clear you are open to hearing it all, and that you’ll do your best to support them. As a leader, acknowledging collective challenges with employees directly demonstrates they are not alone, and you are there to help shoulder the burden where you can.
3) Offer solutions. There are stress-alleviating changes that all businesses can offer their teams, even now. While you can’t solve everything (none of us can, even in normal times), if you are able to help to a team member who is struggling, do it. Financial contributions, access to external resources, a stronger connection to their team members, a better work from home agreement, time to focus on mental health, support and tools in their physical workspace- if any of these will help an employee make it through these times, do it. Protect employees’ more personal conversations with the help of Human Resources, who can provide specific follow up and assistance. Showing up with real help is the most human thing we can do for our people right now.
Workers are the lifeblood of all companies. And we don’t know the entirety of what they’re going through right now. They are a generation, in fact multiple generations, of employees that have made seismic change to their lives and lifestyles to keep business, the economy, and the country safe, just like the people who fought for workers’ rights 100 years ago. Those people made a lasting difference, just like employees are now. As leaders, it’s our turn.
President + Ringmaster burkeMICHAEL+