The employer-employee relationships during crisis: emotional fractures and moral lessons

2020 05 07
Authors: Darius Dužinskas, Darius Dužinskas

A global pandemic, quarantine, remote work and complex dilemmas, in the face of which both employers and employees have been forced to revalue virtues and make sure that what is beautifully written on the wall and solemnly sound in the annual report, in fact, act as a moral compass. In this text, I will discuss a few generalized good and bad practices, as the employer and the employee have done in the face of the crisis, and I will share some lessons that we will be forced to learn.

Employer vs. employee: good and bad practice in the face of crisis

In theory, the values of the organization should be the foundation of our collective existence, an element that makes our work meaningful, creating a community and leading decisions. Value communication is an important part of the internal communication strategy, and I am sure that many companies have written their values in large letters in the most visible place in the office. Today we have got an incredible opportunity to check, if our values are working, or maybe they are just a declarative inscription on the wall.

How did employers act?

Reputation crisis. Organizations in an unfamiliar, new, difficult situation can think of themselves and their survival under any circumstances, become frightened, start to panic and behave irrationally. In most cases, irrational, impulsive decisions end in a smaller or greater reputational crisis. The employee’s attitude towards his employer is determined not only by the direct relationship between the two entities, but also by the employer’s behavior in the public sphere and by the extent to which it is identical to the declared values.

Short-sighted solutions. The eternal question is whether to seek immediate but short-term benefits, or to think and act for sustainable but future results. If, under normal circumstances, in the vast majority of cases, we choose a long-term perspective, then in the face of crisis and panic, many organizations have chosen the easiest path that materialized with threats, fictitious bulletins and similar means. In this case, the conflict between the employer/employee is encoded in the very nature of the relationship, which means that after the crisis, they will return to a culture of fear, anger, unequal positions of power.

The crisis of humanity. Pandemic and quarantine left some businesses with no other option but to cut costs and lay off workers. Unfortunately, we see a number of cases in the world as redundancies have been carried out through video conference platforms. Even in difficult conditions, let us turn to our values and let us not forget simple humanity. The crisis will pass, and we will have to look each other in the eye after that.

Of course, over the last few months, we have also seen a number of beautiful and inspiring examples of behavior.

In difficult situations – the help from the employer. Difficult situations can sometimes simply not be avoided, which means that we cannot escape from difficult decisions. However, it will depend solely on the employer himself on how he manages this unpleasant situation. A good example of employers who not only provide emotional support, fulfill their financial obligations, but also help retrain or plan careers by releasing their employees.

Care and appreciation. Essential workers whose work is needed to enable society to function have received not only financial evaluation, but also moral recognition and full communication campaigns. This is not only a motivational measure for existing employees, but also a clear signal to potential employees about values and the internal culture of the organization.

How did the workers act?

The relationship between the employer and the employee is a two-way path – constant dialogue in search of the best solutions and compromises. In the face of the crisis, not only employers, but also workers, have thrown their masks.

The strongest instinct is survival. All of us are human beings and in the event of danger, the most important thing for us is to survive. However, ages of progress have provided us with tools to manage instincts and make rational decisions. The Covid-19 crisis brought some of us back to a primal state, forcing them to compete unhealthfully with colleagues, complain, sow anxiety and destruction, which directly affects both the microclimate, and the results.

Solidarity crisis. Uncertainty can paralyze us, briefly changing our habits and behavior until what is unusual becomes “normal”. It happens all the time. Unfortunately, sometimes, we voluntarily do not want to return to our normal state, because uncertainty means greater non-accountability, opens spaces for job simulation and passivity.

With regard to examples and practices that can be followed and encouraged, I would like to share the behavior of the employees, which proves a vibrant, functioning and unifying culture of the organization.

I can do more.” A sign of an open, community-based and equality-based culture is that every employee feels able to contribute to the creation of a business, the development of new products and directions, because they see meaning and purpose in their activities.

We can agree and be united“. Quarantine has shown that the future belongs to the teams who have strong values. Those who are able to mobilize and agree on common values and the purpose and path to be followed, even in extremely difficult circumstances.

How we will treat each other after the crisis: moral lessons

As I said earlier, quarantine and the changes associated with it in our professional lives have led to a rethink of how we develop our relationship. Whether what we have seen in ourselves will force us to change, and whether the laws by which we choose employers and employees will change. My answer is probably not. That’s human nature. Still, we have few lessons to learn.

Changing values. After the crisis, it will be a great time to make an audit of the values, purpose, goals and, more generally, identity of our organization, because we had the opportunity to see what was not working. The Covid-19 pandemic has worked like the finest litmus paper, showing both small cracks and seismic fractures on organizational cultural maps.

Understanding motivation. We should finally understand that employees are not motivated by a stylish office, breakfast or game console. I guess we’re going to move away from a superficial perception of motivation a little bit, and we’re going to go deeper into what really motivates a person, as a professional and as an individual.

Reputation. The most important question is not whether we will return to the old tracks, but how quickly it will happen. Reputation is what will take the most time and resources to clean up, and therefore the most problems in recovering will have those who quickly destroyed their reputation, both employers and employees.

All crises are over, our lives will undoubtedly return to the old tracks and we will forget what difficulties we have had to endure, because this will become just another challenge of our interesting times. However, now is the best time to stop for self-reflection and make the audit not only for our organizational processes but also for our own values. If we are able to turn this challenge into a lesson, it will be our greatest achievement.