Empathy, communications most important for businesses now

By Sally Crocker

Dr Joyce Hood Sph Unt Health Science Center Fc
Joyce Hood, DrPH, MPH

Through innovative thinking in the wake of COVID-19, a Dallas-Fort Worth restaurant supplier set out on a new course, delivering fresh-baked bread products directly to consumers’ doorsteps.

The hotel industry has been one of the hardest-hit business sectors during the pandemic, yet Marriott International has been widely praised for sharing updates and messages of support to employees in a forthright, emotional, humble and hopeful way.

Healthcare workers around the DFW Metroplex are working overtime, strengthened by their teamwork and resolve, while other front-line services and businesses band together to get the job done, even when it’s risky and difficult.

At universities around like country like HSC, students, staff and faculty are working alongside community organizations, healthcare providers and public health agencies to lend an extra hand where needed, as classes have moved online in new and different ways.

“As we continue to be challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, these and similar examples of leadership and commitment say a lot about how much business-as-usual has changed in just a few short weeks,” said HSC alumna Joyce Hood, DrPH, MPH, who currently teaches management and leadership courses for the School of Public Health MHA and MPH programs.

“In times like these, we see true leadership emerge, and the businesses adapting to the changing needs of their communities are the ones best positioned for making it successfully through,” she said. “Showing that you care is more important than ever before, as is out-of-the box thinking.”

Regardless of whether employees are delivering direct goods and services or working from home, there are ways that companies can provide support and reassurance during tough times, Dr. Hood says.

Provide honest, timely information. Keep communications ongoing.

“Employees have a lot of questions right now. Will we keep our jobs? How can we best manage these temporary, extended or perhaps even longer-term changes to our business practices? How do we maintain coworker networks and access information, technology and other needed services? It’s vital to inspire confidence and address what people need to know to continue doing their jobs in this new environment,” she advised.

Recognize employees’ personal challenges right now.

“Businesses should be asking, what can we do to support our people,” Dr. Hood said. Where possible, some companies are giving raises or bonuses to recognize hard work that is going above and beyond. Others are providing an extra hand to their workers, like the many restaurants now on takeout operations, who are also ensuring their employees get a hot meal or groceries for their own families. Healthcare organizations and others are following suit by serving lunch or dinner to the shifts working long hours to serve others.

Address safety and mental well-being.

“In short, take care of people,” Dr. Hood said.

That means providing essential resources and protections for doing the job, as well as support services for team members’ physical and mental health.

“Pay attention to the people factors in business. Is someone worrying about an elderly relative living alone, or taking care of pets that also need food or supplies? There may be ways managers and companies can lend a hand,” she said.

Beyond that, Dr. Hood said, an email, phone call, video chat, text or handwritten note all go a long way in letting someone know that you care.

“There are many ways to show concern. The work environment right now has much to do with the heart of who we all are as people.”

Empower employees to do what’s right.

“Give team members the tools to make decisions that fit the parameters of your business model, and then let them do it,” Dr. Hood said. “Typical management strategies may not work right now, so give employees flexibility and the support to make independent, quick decisions as needed.”

Model the behaviors you value in your teams.

As a nurse leader who worked for decades in critical care, systems management and occupational health, Dr. Hood assumed a key role during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, directing programs for the overall safety and health of thousands of healthcare workers and providing guidance to school districts around the area, while also working alongside hospital team members to care for patients.

“We were all working nonstop days,” she said. “When times get tough, be willing to pitch in and do the same things you’re asking your employees to do,” she advised.

“Whatever it takes to get the job done, take care of each other and serve the community, that’s where employers should be focused right now.”

Draw inspiration from other leadership examples.

TED talks, LinkedIn articles and similar online resources are helpful, as are ideas from within your own company’s management teams, she recommended.

Lead with heart.

“Analysts are predicting that the changes we are going through now will have a definite impact on how people work, engage professionally and do business in the long term,” Dr. Hood said.

“It’s never been a more important time for business leaders to operate with innovation, integrity, transparency and empathy. Messages of reassurance and support help us all cope and be more resilient. In business and other situations, be kind to each other, because the little things are very important right now.”

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