Canadian business owners and leaders are being challenged now more than ever before. From adjusting and navigating slowdowns, shutdowns, surges in volume, loss of employees, remote work and financial stress to responding and adapting to constantly changing and complex legislation, health regulations and other requirements—it can feel overwhelming at best and impossible at worst. This has all been further complicated by the need to address new workplace operational and employee personal needs.
Because things are changing so rapidly, employers are often left trying to address these unprecedented challenges without concrete guidance for where or how to even begin. To gain some professional perspective on these issues and glean insight on what employers are facing and how they might move forward, we had a chat with human resources thought leader and President of TAP Strategy & HR Consulting, Bruce Weippert.
How have business owners and leaders—particularly of small- and medium-sized businesses—been navigating the challenges exasperated by the pandemic?
Many business owners are survivalists. They took risks in starting a business, and many faced complex challenges prior to the pandemic—actively working past constraints, making tough decisions, breaking down barriers and trying new things. And while some have been more successful than others in adapting to the changes, this last year and a half has really been a demonstration of personal resilience.
Another strength that has really benefitted owners and business leaders has been staying up to date with continuously changing legislation, health regulations and, in some cases, benefits being offered to support business and their employees. This has allowed many to plan ahead for change and not be at the mercy of chance.
What are the greatest challenges you are seeing from employers now that we are reopening?
Of course, one of the big topics on everyone’s mind is vaccinations. At best, it’s been confusing for employers to understand what they can mandate for customers and the public interacting with their business, and for their employees. It’s not as easy as unilaterally deciding that customers entering one’s business or employees must be vaccinated before coming to work. Human rights, privacy and other forms of legislation must be taken into consideration before a decision like that can be made, otherwise businesses could face some tough challenges. Decisions like these should be guided by public policy—leaving personal preferences out of it—and with the certainty that there is a bonified requirement at the base of that decision.
Other challenges we are seeing include grappling with layoff decisions, understanding what they can and can’t do within the parameters of legislation, employee mental health, accommodations and dealing with staff refusing to return to the workplace for a very wide range of reasons. As it relates to employees not wanting to return to work, while personal preferences or fear are not considered valid reasons, they may be very real for the employee, and in the spirit of positive employee relations, need to be addressed in a meaningful way.
What have we learned from all of this?
The pandemic has exposed us. Yes, in more ways than one. It has shown us more about our team members, who the leaders are, who are facing challenges personally and professionally, what we have, what we do and don’t need, where clarity exists in process and policy and where our operational and human resources “kinks” need to be ironed out.
We’ve learned how strong our teams really are—or aren’t. Organizational cultures have evolved—some fantastic, and some we do not recognize or want. We’ve exposed whether we are good leaders, and most of all we have exposed our personal resiliencies, adaptabilities and strengths.
From this exposure we are faced with some realities, and some choices. Do we go back to the way things were, or do we use the opportunity for a fresh start?
What’s the best way forward?
The best way forward for business owners and other leaders is to continue to fight COVID fatigue. It’s easy to be fed up with the current situation and want things to return to some state of normalcy. For many employers though, returning to the way things were before the pandemic is no longer likely or even feasible.
Remember, each employee is having their own experiences and facing their own personal barriers or family challenges. This is where communication, patience, flexibility and understanding become important—to a degree of course.
Work towards building employee resilience. Remember that, in some cases, employees may have to relearn some things: how to be an employee relocating back to a workplace, being part of a team and collaborating with others. Use the opportunity for a fresh start for yourself, your team, and your business, and know that you are not alone in these challenging times.