Kelly Johnstone, Vice President, Strategic Security, The Coca-Cola Company
We were all thrown a curveball earlier this year, and as security professionals we remained calm, demonstrated leadership/ownership, and helped get our companies to where we are today: operational in a semi-state of lockdown with no clear path or time frame out of this environment. We, as security leaders, are still constantly talking about operating in the current state of “crisis mode” and what the future – or the “new normal” might look like; but I urge leaders in our industry to think a bit about the shorter-term. We need to anticipate what is coming down the pike now - and not just focus on “getting back to normal.”
When the pandemic broke, the world and the businesses community were aligned.We had one common enemy—COVID-19.We were more concerned about our health and safety and our family members than anything else.We all marched in one direction: washing hands, locking down and working from home.Most of us had never worked from home or spent so much time with our families - and we embraced it.We feared losing our jobs and worked relentlessly.We learned how to connect with technology and altered our routines to adjust and the alterations, for the most part, were good.
But after several months this experience is beginning to lose its luster.The lack of a clear outcome is taking its toll. Many feel we need to “open up” and “get on with it.” Others feel we need to stay in a semi-lockdown, and still others are somewhere in the middle. Our common goal is gone, our alignment is wavering, and many of us are feeling additional stress based on what is going on in our own lives. Not to mention that despite what we all thought, we really do not want to work virtually forever.
When we begin to differ on what is “right,” we often see bad behavior. Perhaps like many of you, since the implementation of work from home across the business, our company reports of workplace violence, theft, code of business conduct investigations, hotline calls, and the like have decreased. However, in the last few weeks we have seen those numbers go up.In locations where our employees are entering the workplace, we are seeing altercations around differences in behavior or perceptions of safety.More cases of COVID-19 exposures are occurring as employees fear they will lose their jobs if they self-report symptoms. Domestic abuse and psychological breakdowns are increasing.
So, what can we do to ensure we are ready for what is coming in the middle-term? Do we sit back on the pitch in anticipation of the changeup, or get ready for the fastball and swing for the fences?
While we cannot prevent all bad behavior, we can reset expectations and take the time to focus on a few positive behaviors:
- Be empathetic – both as leaders and as security professionals. We need to understand what our employees are going through. Everyone’s situation is different, and we need to allow our employees the flexibility to do what they need to succeed.Listen, understand, and help.
- Prioritize and align – Security leaders cannot do everything; and not everything that was important pre-pandemic is still important today. Determine what is important for your team and for the business and continually align around the new priorities. An aligned workforce is a smoothly operating workforce.
- Manage yourself and encourage others to manage themselves, too. Build time for self-care into your day.If you are a runner, build in time for your run.If you need to meditate, set aside the hour needed.If you are a caregiver, ensure you have the flexibility to attend to the people for whom you are caring without being rushed or impatient.If you do not build the “process” into your day, you will not do it. Share how you accomplish this with your team and encourage your company leaders to do the same.Our employees will follow if we demonstrate the importance of “me time.”
- Recast your team processes and understand that what worked during the crisis phase might not be needed now. Do we need to meet three times per week, or can we meet once?Reevaluate what you need and how you need it and adjust. We could all benefit from fewer meetings.
- Ensure your workforce knows who to call. Reeducate the workforce on the employee assistance call center, HR, and security contacts so they know to whom to reach out when the situation dictates. Make the numbers visible and accessible.
- Reeducate your leaders and managers on how to recognize mental stress in a virtual world. Remind everyone of the process for reporting potential workplace violence and mental health issues.
- Treat your employees with respect. If your company will be experiencing restructuring and potential layoffs, be as transparent as possible with the information you can share and put the information into context. Communicate what you know even if you do not have all the information. And most importantly, be empathetic. Most employees report that they believe their company did a good job around restructuring if they see other employees being treated well.
- Anticipate and identify potential threats. If your company will be restructuring, work with HR to identify employees who might need extra support and anticipate any disruptive behavior by preparing the appropriate mitigation strategies ahead of time. Ensure IT has the information necessary to avoid unwanted information disclosures as employees are notified.
How will you lead during the ongoing pandemic environment and re-focus on the “now” rather than getting tunnel vision for the “end?” There is a myriad of unknowns to consider, but the more we can eliminate the discomfort around ambiguity, the safer and more productive our workplace and employees will be. By instituting a few process changes and focusing on positive behaviors, we can make a difference, and be prepared for the next curveball.