People Sitting At Table - WE Communications Purpose Leadership

Your most strategic investment? Your people

8/2/2021
— Debbie Badham, WE 

Before the pandemic, workers were often afraid to express feelings of burnout and mental exhaustion, but events of the past year have turned the perception of mental health in the workplace on its head and with it the way businesses communicate with their employees. In South Africa, we’re seeing this first-hand.

Navigating a global pandemic, plus concerns around social instability and failing infrastructure — South African employees are under extraordinary levels of stress. Mindset Management conducted a series of employee pulse surveys of  12,707 South Africans and their research showed that more than half of all employees are struggling to focus on work, with 90% saying they are experiencing anxiety.

To add to the complexity of the situation, many leadership teams are navigating this unprecedented dip in employee morale amidst the unchartered territory of hybrid work. In fact, Microsoft’s Work Reworked research shows more than a third of South African business leaders admit to struggling with maintaining a strong and unified team culture as the country leans into a more hybrid work model.

For organizations, the data is clear: To help team members stay motivated, inspired and performing at their best, they must find new, engaging ways of investing in their employees. Let’s take a deeper look at where leaders can start.

Find the connection points

In WE’s recent research Rethinking the Purpose and Meaning of Leadership, 89% of leaders say engaging with issues that affect their employees is a moral obligation, while 78% believe they must lead with greater empathy. This understanding is being recognized by many brands that WE works with in South Africa, which are evolving their own internal employee communication processes to help improve connection points between business leaders and employees.

To maximize engagement, brands and organizations need to evolve their process beyond what it was before. This means thinking about finding the connection points in your internal communication strategies that feel consistent and deliberate. Don’t be afraid to get creative. This is a connection point we’ve developed at WE this year with our #PeoplePower stories on social media. These stories have reached over 15,000 people and are being shared by people at every level at the agency, helping bring together a new level of connectivity.

As we have an office in South Africa, top-level communication on the agency’s point of view and cross-collaboration also helps foster a feeling of belonging and gives a strong sense of empathy and transparency. It’s not uncommon for our Managing Director in South Africa, Sarah Gooding, to reach out to more junior employees to see how they are coping. In instances where support is needed, they are encouraged to make use of the agency’s Employee Assistance Program, through which they can access everything from debriefing sessions with counselors to burnout and trauma support. Though companies may take it for granted, investing the time to listen to your employees is a crucial first step in boosting employee morale, making line managers the most important channel of internal communication organizations have.

Make time for downtime

In our South Africa office, creating ‘water-cooler moments’ has been crucial to offer periods of downtime during workdays. It’s helped stimulate bursts of collaboration and connection with new hires. When investing in your employees, think about the needs of specific teams. For example, our content team created their own water-cooler moment called Content Therapy.  It’s run by a different person every week, encouraging team members to be engaged and take ownership of topics as diverse as they like, becoming a new way for the team to brainstorm.

Another of our clients has also found success in using screensavers (animated and static) to encourage downtime, in addition to more standard communication channels. The brand uses these for everything, from providing tips to improve well-being to sharing motivational quotes. They’ve found that employees then share this content themselves, which is a great testament to the level of engagement they’ve been able to achieve.

Employee communications has never been more critical than during this moment we’re living now. To make the best impact, leaders must get to know their employees collectively and as individuals. As South Africa overcomes challenges, it’s been important for all employees to know they have a leadership team that listens, respects and encourages new ways to collaborate. Organization and brand leaders should rethink their internal communication strategies so that it not only feels authentic but delivers core information effectively. Bottom line: If you invest in anything this year, make it your people. Your organization’s survival depends on it.

WE’s Rethinking the Purpose and Meaning of Leadership research in partnership with YouGov uncovers trends and insights from more than 300 global business leaders about how the events of the past year reshaped leadership expectations, unlocking new ways to lead through introspection and determination.