How did employers handle the needs of their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic? A team of instructors at the University of Oklahoma College of Professional and Continuing Studies shed some light on the topic in their recently published research.
The study is highlighted in “One Size Does NOT Fit All: Understanding Differences in Perceived Organizational Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” published this March in Business and Society in the Age of COVID-19, a special issue of Business and Society Review.
“The COVID-19 crisis was a global wakeup call for organizational leaders. We found that a one-size-fits-all approach didn’t work. Instead, customized support was needed during the pandemic to help specific groups of workers.”
Conducted during the early stages of the pandemic by organizational leadership instructors Ruby Daniels, Leslie A. Miller and Michael Zia Mian, the research found that while employers were hitting the mark in some areas, most workers (73%) believed their companies could do better.
“The COVID-19 crisis was a global wakeup call for organizational leaders,” said Daniels. “We found that a one-size-fits-all approach didn’t work. Instead, customized support was needed during the pandemic to help specific groups of workers.”
The study surveyed nearly 1,000 workers from 22 industries. Those completing the survey rated the quality of 15 actions focused on five workforce needs – health and well-being, comfort expressing concerns, listening and care about concerns, support for employees’ decisions, and communicating the organization’s response. Respondents also provided suggestions on how leaders could make them feel more supported.
Daniels said they discovered not only is communication critical during a crisis, but employees have different needs during a pandemic. Furloughed workers expressed a higher need for communication than full- and part-time employees. Similarly, people who worked outside the home expressed a greater need for safety-related support.
“Leaders should proactively share information, as well as actively listen to workers,” Daniels said. “Doing so helps employees cope with the crisis and stay engaged with the organization.”
The study also found that empathy and compassion are critical during a crisis.
“I was touched by the amazing generosity of some leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Daniels said. “I remember a story of a manager who worked for a restaurant. With nationwide stay-at-home orders in place, his restaurant was suddenly empty. Rather than let their food spoil, the leader of the restaurant started giving away food to his employees. His actions demonstrated kindness and love for his employees during a terrible crisis.”
Daniels and her team hope their research will serve as a planning tool for leaders.
“In the future, leaders should not cross their fingers and hope we never experience another pandemic. They also should not assume strategies for COVID-19 will work for other pandemics,” she said. “Each virus is different and will present unique challenges. As a result, now is the time for leaders to continuously improve their organizations’ pandemic plans.”
To learn more about the study, visit onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14678594.