How do you keep your team happy?

VP of HR shares tips on how to keep morale up at work

How do you keep your team happy?

As the standard bearer in the war against COVID-19, it should be unsurprising that one in three HR professionals are unhappy at work. The recent study, conducted during the pandemic, found that nearly half are unsatisfied with their jobs, compared to pre-COVID times.

Besides feeling the brunt of their new roles as crisis managers and having to ‘manage fires’ left and right of the organisation, two in three HR leaders also said they were worried about the company’s overall financial health. As they manage employee well-being, engagement, and health and safety, they can’t help but stress over the company’s revenue, profitability and cash flow – especially if they were heading teams in small local businesses.

The list of stressors goes on, according to JobStreet’s study, such as the pressure of how the bulk of business continuity weighed on their efforts, and the psychological impact of a constant expectation to be the ‘bearer of bad news’. Basically, the study confirmed what we’re all thinking: whenever employees get hit by a negative impact of the crisis, the HR team feels double that burden.

Read more: 1 in 3 HR professionals unhappy at work

The challenges of managing ‘great change’

Emman Salazar, vice president HR at Concepcion Industrial Corporation, can empathise with the study’s findings. He told HRD that he saw his team transformed from focusing on talent management and HR service delivery to a crisis management operation. When the crisis first hit, like many other teams, they had to abandon all the projects and plans they had lined up for the year.

“The objectives we set for the team at the start of the year significantly shifted to different priorities and I, myself, turned out to be the lead crisis manager for the organisation,” Salazar told HRD.

He recalled how the past year required a ‘major sacrifice’ from the entire company, including the HR team, as they worked to maintain ‘the smoothest relationship’ between employees and HR, as well as with leaders. Then there’s the challenge of dealing with the financial impact of the crisis, which Salazar found to be a very ‘personal’ experience.

“When the business is undergoing major challenges in terms of profitability and in terms of new ways of doing things, you have to inspire the team to challenge themselves to really prepare for whatever is out there for their careers and their personal lives,” he said. “It is probably an understatement to call it resilience.”

Read more: Feeling exhausted? You may have ‘change fatigue’

He commented that ‘resilience’ feels like an overused term as everyone was forced to ‘stretch themselves’ and be okay after – but that was exactly what leaders had to remind their teams to keep them engaged and soldier on.

“How do you keep them motivated in the midst of all these changes…and what’s happening to the business?” he said. “It’s about recognition, about giving the right support, and the frequency of communication you have with them.”

Prior to COVID, his team had weekly meetings. Now, leaders can call a meeting anytime there’s a need to, to offer guidance and simultaneously receive real-time feedback. Regular communication with your HR teams is especially crucial since they’re tasked to head much of the engagement work. It’s about keeping them close and informed about what’s happening at the organisation, as well as everything that’s going on around them.

Read more: Unilever global head: How to manage your HR team’s well-being

How to keep team morale up

On top of managing the constant changes at the organisation, HR also had to rise up to the challenge of offering all their services virtually or remotely. But he counts himself lucky as his team was quick to catch up with the requirements of a digital workplace. They were also able to realign with business needs and ‘hunker down’ together.

“It’s still the same team [with me],” he said. “Nobody gave up, so that’s a good sign that everybody’s still on board.”

But he admitted that it wasn’t easy for the team. They had to reprioritise their assignments, deliverables and even redistribute work as circumstances and individual needs changed throughout the year. For instance, one of his team members got pregnant during the lockdown and wasn’t able to ‘maximise her contributions’. To Salazar’s pleasant surprise, someone stepped up and volunteered to take on part of their role.

“That was an admirable thing,” he said. “Everybody was willing to take on different [or] multiple roles, multitask and really be open to the team.”

Read more: How to use culture to get the best out of your team

Reflecting on such incidents, as well as how they’ve managed to keep employee engagement up during the crisis, he said it likely boiled down to one thing: a collective sense of humanity.

“I'm trying to figure out what happened,” he said. “After all the challenges and hardships, engagement is still up. I think that’s owed to a kind of [shared] compassion and perhaps the support we extended to all of our employees, including my team.

“The crisis has tested the humanity of everyone. This whole challenge [has led] everyone to capitalise on the good and really hope for the best to happen. I’m pretty sure that the next few months or days will be better.”

And thankfully, things are looking up for the team in 2021, even if the pandemic and lockdowns remain the norm across the globe – particularly for them being based in the Philippines – so they have something to look forward to in the new year.

“We’re starting to recover,” he said. “We started going back to our routine and the mix of responsibilities. As we get better at handling our [COVID-19] cases, we are now moving towards more strategic HR work. We are reviving our engagement plans, and we are preparing for hopefully a normal 2021.”

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