No one leaves a ship in a storm.

This old quote got my attention recently, and it got me thinking. There’s a reason why we see headlines such as “Surviving the Waves of the Pandemic Storm” and “Navigating Through COVID-19 Headwinds” that borrow from nautical lexicon. Like the ocean, the pandemic is full of shifting winds and changing currents for which no chart exists.

The “ship in a storm” analogy is particularly apt for employers today. While no one willingly leaps from the deck into raging seas, once the clouds part, they will start to look for the nearest place to land. And once tied up on dock, the crew will depart, and if they’re disgruntled, they may not return.

Simply put, leaders may not be thinking about employee retention right now, in the middle of the storm. In the UK, the government’s furlough scheme is keeping the crew on board. In the US, however, the job market is already starting to rebound. Europe will do well to keep an eye on what happens stateside.

Is your crew disgruntled? The answer is probably “Yes.”

The signs of increasing levels of disgruntlement amongst our crews are clear. While they may be putting on brave faces at work, all is not well:

How to right the ship

I’ve shared the gruesome statistics above in an effort to invite leaders who read this to look beyond their own perceptions.

Consider the following disconnect highlighted in a recent article on People Management site:

“A survey of 1,600 employees and HR leaders across England by Westfield Heath found a third of employees (35 per cent) reported that mental and physical wellbeing across their team was ‘not good’ or ‘not good at all’, compared to just 7 per cent of HR leaders stating the same.

The poll also found HR was more optimistic about productivity: 40 percent of HR professionals said productivity was ‘very good’ compared to only 20 percent of employees. Similarly, while 41 per cent of HR leaders said morale was ‘very good’, this sentiment was only shared by 17 percent of workers.”

To get beyond your own perceptions and those of fellow leaders, you have to talk to your employees. That’s the first step in righting the ship – getting to the essential truth of how your employees are feeling right now.

The power of truth

There is no question that pursuing the truth about what employees think and feel requires some courage and bravery on the part of the leadership team. Chances are good you will hear some things that don’t please you.

However, even the negative feedback represents a source of power – because it enables leaders to take focused action to rectify the situation and make improvements that will be meaningful to employees.

Think about the alternatives, which are either ignoring the problems and allowing them to fester and grow, or glibly overlooking the issues, resulting in a tone-deaf action that actually makes the situation worse.

You can get to the truth a few different ways:

  • Ask the leadership team to hold skip-level meetings, focusing on the same topics. Compare notes and look for patterns.
  • Host round-table meetings with employees – without managers in the room.
  • Survey your team, and ask how the pandemic has affected them personally. (If you need access to a survey, I am making our platform available for this purpose at no charge to businesses that need it.)

Once you are armed with the truth, in addition to resolving the issues at hand, you will also find that trust in leadership and communications both improve. You will start to create a powerful feedback loop with your team that will enable you to more deftly support them – which they will appreciate. The feedback and insights you gather will open up new opportunities for you to invest in your team’s development, unite and inspire them with the company purpose, and – importantly – convey information they trust that will guide them into calmer waters.

Let’s face it – that’s a much more appealing scenario than a shipwreck that leaves you staring out at the carnage. Taking these simple actions now will help ensure your ship arrives safe, sound, and with its valued crew firmly intact.