Employers accused of not ‘actively listening’ to workers during coronavirus response

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Less than one in five employers have said they are actively listening to the needs and concerns of employees as part of their COVID-19 response.

Just 19% of respondents of a Willis Towers Watson survey said they were conducting virtual focus groups with employees and 15% said they were conducting surveys to gauge their opinion.

This lack of dialogue surrounding companies’ responses could impact how businesses are develop a plan to recovery.

Sadly, 25% said they were planning or considering redundancies and 12% said they had already taken action.

Fifty per cent said they had frozen hiring, with one in five respondents either reducing merit increases or freezing salaries.

Hazel Rees, GB leader of rewards at Willis Towers Watson, said: “As this crisis continues to evolve, two-way listening to employees will be critical in establishing how a business can effectively support employees over the longer term and help the organisation rebound.

“Employees are the backbone of any operation and ensuring the workforce has access to, and understands, the benefits available during these unprecedented times will help maintain loyalty and stand companies in good stead when they emerge from this crisis.”

Christina Pendleton, head of people and engagement at Intercity Technology, said her company had been working to actively engage and support employees during lockdown.

She told HR magazine: “People are key to the operations of companies and in such unprecedented times, when anxiety is high, actively listening to the needs and concerns of employees is critical to the success of a company, therefore, these findings do surprise me.

“As HR practitioners, it’s our responsibility to highlight the motivation and productivity benefits of employee engagement to leadership teams. Ultimately, we need to help employers understand and appeal to the human side of working to ensure a people-first approach.”

For Claire Scott, chief people officer at software company Access Group, frequent feedback from employees is also critical.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Without checking in with employees regularly, it’s difficult to support them and see any trends. But by regularly giving employees the opportunity to share how they’re feeling and really taking the time to listen to them, it means we’re able to spot key trends that might mean they need further support.”

Willis Towers Watson said that health, resilience and wellbeing of the workforce will prove ‘critical’ to the long-term sustainability of operations beyond the crisis.

This comes as other reports in the sector have observed rising levels of anxiety and stress in the current climate, and experts call for critical safeguarding of employee mental health.

Rees added: “With more cost cutting expected in the future, employers will be remembered for how they react and treat their workers in this pandemic.

“Ensuring support extends beyond keeping the cogs turning will be critical to building and sustaining workforce resilience and sending the message that employees matter.”

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