Business not as usual

Claire Carson, HR Consultant at Cognitive Law, our legal partner, shares her insights into the trends currently impacting businesses as people process this new normal.

The work I do with different businesses highlights trends in behaviour impacted by external influences, whether they be upturns, downturns, seasonal peaks and troughs or in as in recent months: global pandemics.

I see patterns of behaviour from people impacted by what is happening around them.  Such trends can help us to understand people’s behaviour and anticipate what might happen next.

The Kubler-Ross change model is a simple tool that shows the stages people tend to move through when they experience change. You may recognise yourself or some of your colleagues and team members by where you and they are on the change curve by observing behaviours.

The trends I have seen so far follow the model, it can be a useful tool to reflect on what you have seen and to help yourself and others to identify the current stage and what to expect next.

I realised there were several people experiencing ‘shock’ and ‘denial’ when I began to receive an upsurge in questions directly from employees; they were disappointed, disgruntled and disenfranchised. They had been dismissed (some of them unfairly) and I received many queries around appeals, grievances and tribunals. Many employers were acting in haste as they saw a huge drop in clients and sales. Indeed, action must be taken quickly in such turbulent times but in some cases, the worst is yet to come if a fair and transparent and lawful process wasn’t carried out. There is usually a surge of complaints in downturns and employees who are left without an income in a difficult job market have nothing to lose if they raise a complaint.

The second tranche of questions were about furlough. When the government guidelines were first released, they were minimal and understandably there were many questions around which employees and businesses would be eligible and how to put furlough in to practice. For some businesses the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was a lifeline and they were keen to make full use of it. But there were strict guidelines and not all of them had been released. Several of my clients were caught between needing to make quick decisions and not knowing exactly where the goalposts were. There was an incredible amount of ‘frustration’ experienced by both employees and employers at this stage.

According to the model, the next stage is ‘depression’, although it’s important to remember that not everyone experiences all the stages and people do move both forwards and backwards through the model. What I saw was a lull, business had slowed, and many employees were on furlough. It’s conceivable that such a change to people’s lives and income could affect their mood negatively.

The next stage in the model is ‘experiment’ and I’m seeing more of this as businesses turn their focus elsewhere. You will, I’m sure, have heard about some of the breweries and distilleries that are now making hand sanitiser. Many food outlets are offering new home delivery services (and providing sustenance to our beloved NHS staff). Of course, not all organisations can pivot in this way and instead they are working hard to keep their business afloat, which is incredibly challenging if your employees are not allowed to work under the furlough scheme.

The penultimate stage is ‘decision’.  My early indicators of this have been queries about redundancy as business owners reach conclusions about their longer-term needs.  Other decisions being made are continuing to use furlough, how to integrate working from home for a longer period and returning to the workplace.

The final stage according to Kubler Ross is ‘integration’.  This is where we’re all heading and what I’m starting to work on with business leaders to developing their strategy.

Several clients are thinking ahead, anticipating what will happen next and how to prepare for various scenarios. Business leaders are forecasting sales and profits and planning recovery and growth and I’m providing insights on how we can best understand the mindset of people to incorporate them into the overall strategy.

By understanding more about how people have been affected by their experiences we can include actions to transition them back to becoming motivated, healthy team members once more.

Unsurprisingly, putting the people aspect into a strategy can be difficult for some; it takes strong leadership, emotional intelligence and strategic decision making, as well as great communication, engagement and development.

You can read more about how Cogntive Law can support you from a legal perspective during this pandemic.

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