Realities of remote work: psychological safety

Prioritizing employee wellbeing has been a key component of SEI’s response to the pandemic.
By: | April 24, 2020 • 3 min read

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series related to coronavirus around remote employee strategies and priorities for HR leaders—from HR’s top experts.

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As HR leaders strive to figure out what employees need in this global health crisis, Maslow’s Hierarchy has been cited many times: Humans inherently need to feel physically safe and protected before anything else.

With that in mind, SEI put together a microsite with resources for leaders and employees about benefits information and referral programs, asking leaders to speak with their reports about their physical safety and emotional wellbeing.

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HR’s four-member learning and development team also introduced the concept of “situational humility,” says Colleen Stratton, head of workforce development at the global financial-services and technology firm, which has nearly 4,000 global employees working remotely. Stratton says leaders are learning to feel comfortable not knowing the answer to every employee question. “We‘re also trying to put dates to things, even if those dates move. It’s creating a sense of a timeline that people can attach to.”

Also see: 8 skills HR business partners need for success

The same team is also reminding leaders to apply a three-year-old program that plays to worker strengths. It focuses on the leadership’s management style, understanding how their employees are best managed and then modifying their style to get the best out of their staff. As an example, Stratton points to high achievers. Bosses can make them feel good by asking them what they accomplish each day.

HR also trained leaders on how to virtually spot signs of employee stress and use various technologies to mitigate that risk; SEI will soon launch online classes on how to build employee trust in a remote work setting, says Stratton. HR even arranged to have a special office chair moved to a leader’s home office to enhance his comfort level working remotely.

But above all, the company focuses on communication to promote psychological safety. CEO Alfred West, Jr. updates the entire workforce about the pandemic and company’s status three times a week via email.

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Senior executives also use video conference several times each week and conduct routine check-ins with staff.

“One of our leaders says for every email you send, make two phone calls,” Stratton says. “The goal of our communication is to make sure we’re listening [to employees].”

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For more on how HR can serve as the “conscience of leadership” during this unprecedented time, click here.

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.