Leaders are failing to communicate with employees during coronavirus

Nearly half of employees say communication is the area their leadership most needs to improve during the coronavirus pandemic

In a nationwide survey of 16,000 workers, Hays recruitment found 43% said leaders needed to improve communication, well ahead of areas such as strategy and planning (23%) and remote staff management (13%).

A third of employees said they have contact with their manager less than once a week and just 29% said they contact their manager on a daily basis.

This has decreased in recent months according to over a third (34%) who said the amount of contact they have with their manager has reduced since lockdown.

Speaking to HR magazine Yvonne Smyth, director of Hays Human Resources, said that although the current circumstances are unusual, leaders should know how to adapt their strategy.

She said: “A leader used to being in an office setting should also be perfectly capable to lead well remotely. The clear differences are the need for leaders to be more visible to their teams, which will rely on clear, transparent and authentic communication and making sure people know when to expect to hear from you.”

Leading well, Smyth added, is also a question of trust. She added: “If you’ve previously only led a team who you can see and talk to each day in an office setting, transitioning to having everyone working remotely can initially be unsettling if you can’t physically talk to/see everyone.

“Leaders must learn to shake off any mistrust and assumptions if you and your team are to succeed in the new era of work, whereby remote work will no doubt be much more common.”

A lack of contact has impacted working relationships, with 20% of employers reporting relationships with their team have been more distant since lockdown began.

This is shared by employees given 40% do not have access to a work support network while working remotely.

To alleviate isolation in the workforce Smyth said: “It’s important HR support employees by facilitating regular opportunities for them to check in with their employer. Team meetings and 1-2-1s should still be on the agenda, but as staff won’t bump into one another organically at work, make sure to organise social sessions like virtual coffee mornings and quizzes.

“These can also include any employees who are on furlough leave, as it’s important that they too are able to catch up and discuss what’s on their minds.”

Despite employee criticism, for 40% of respondents, communication is the aspect of their organisation which has undergone the most change since the coronavirus outbreak, ahead of people (24%) and processes (22%).

Over half (51%) rated their leadership’s response to the coronavirus outbreak so far as excellent or good, while 49% said their leadership’s response has been OK to poor.

As employees are gradually starting to be reintegrated into the workplace, Smyth said it would also be critical for HR to advise leadership on agile working strategy.

“Hybrid working patterns are likely to be here to stay so understanding flexible working practices and options which suit individuals and organisations is key.

“HR functions can be of huge value here by informing leaders of agile working practices from flexible working to job shares and part time hours.”