Navigating Uncertainty: 4 Tips to Build a More Supportive Workplace

In our interconnected world where global and local crises unfold in real-time on our devices, the impacts are undeniable. Whether it's a distant conflict, the ripple effects of a disaster in a nearby community, or economic fluctuations affecting Canadians nationwide, HR leaders play a vital role in supporting their employees.

While these crises may not directly affect all employees, they do influence the workplace dynamics. When employees bring their concerns to work, it impacts their ability to perform at their best. The 2023 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey reveals a significant increase in employee stress levels, now at 38%, surpassing even pandemic levels. Financial concerns, excessive workload, and challenges balancing work and life were identified as the top stressors. Employers must proactively assist their employees, recognizing the added stress brought about by ongoing global and local uncertainties, and approach the situation with care. Organizations should align their actions with their values and past approaches to help employees through these uncertain times.

Here are 4 tips to foster an environment where employees feel heard, supported, and better equipped to navigate uncertainties:

  1. Prioritize transparent communication
    In times of uncertainty, transparency is vital for a healthy company culture. According to Glassdoor, workplace transparency creates openness between managers and employees, fostering greater levels of trust, improved communication, and increased engagement. Encourage open discussions with managers, share details about available Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and address concerns to build trust. Acknowledge the challenge of separating emotions from work, clarify time-off policies, and communicate that employees' well-being is a top priority.

    Harvard Business Review study shows that 70% of workers are most engaged when senior management communicates openly, emphasizing the positive impact of transparent communication on employee engagement.

  1. Be Proactive
    Creating a supportive workplace involves taking proactive steps. Take the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) as an example. After finding that 64% of Canadians faced significant financial concerns with rising inflation and cost of living, RBC launched an employee-facing website with over 1,000 articles on financial well-being. This initiative aimed to ease employee financial stress, showing RBC's commitment to their well-being, and providing resources for support.

    While your organization may not have the resources for large-scale initiatives, simple practices such as regular check-ins, surveys, and tailored wellness programs can go a long way to build trust and show genuine care. Forming employee groups or response teams adds an extra layer of proactivity for stronger support. 

  1. Create safe spaces
    In navigating uncertainty, employees grapple with the challenge of separating personal emotions from work, especially in times of crisis. Concerns about the safety of loved ones and the broader impact of unfolding events can be emotionally burdensome. To address this, organizations can create safe spaces that promote inclusion and psychological safety.

    For example, Schneider Electric intensified its commitment to employee well-being by launching the Not Myself Today digital platform in 2021. This platform empowered employees with tools to support their mental health and build psychological safety at work. It also provides managers with training and access to their team’s overall well-being score. The company also implemented rest and recharge days, created an online well-being community, and held virtual town hall events focused on mental health. 

  1. Clarify available benefits and services
    Despite the prevalence of mental health challenges among Canadian employees, a significant portion remains underserved. According to HR Reporter, two in five workers in Canada are unfamiliar with the purpose of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) and what it offers. This lack of awareness creates a significant gap in utilization of these valuable mental health resources and support for employees and their families.

    To bridge this gap, employers and HR teams can enhance understanding of the organization's benefits and services. Clear communication about accessing the EAP and mental health or stress management services within their benefits is vital. Additionally, introducing or expanding flexibility in work schedules can assist employees in achieving a healthier work-life balance, reducing turnover, and enhancing productivity. Beyond internal resources, informing employees about additional community resources can further support their mental health needs. 

As organizations use these strategies, they not only solve immediate problems but also create workplaces that stand out in today's competitive world by putting employees first. Making employee well-being a priority is not just the right thing to do; it's also a smart move for long-term success in building a thriving and competitive workplace.