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4 steps HR can take to unite a divided workforce

HR needs to be aware of divisions. heal teams, and bring people back together again.

Rick Kershaw


Photo by youssef naddam on Unsplash.

Unleash Your People The past few years have divided people — here’s how HR can heal teams and bring people back together.

  • A recent Glassdoor survey found that workers are divided on issues including the return to the workplace, flexible working, and vaccinations.
  • Just over half of UK employees think a COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for those returning to the office.
  • While just under half disagreed, and 12% say they won’t be taking the vaccine at all.

Over the past few years, political and social divisions have become heightened. These divisions present a significant challenge for organizations, as business success hinges on employees being aligned behind goals and objectives. 

This alignment and togetherness will be more important than ever as we emerge from the turmoil of the past year. Businesses are facing strong headwinds and will need every employee to stand firmly with them to help withstand these and reach future strategic goals.

But while in some ways living through the pandemic has brought us closer, it has also created new factions within workforces. HR and business leaders need to be aware of these divisions and do all they can to heal teams and bring people back together again.

A recent Glassdoor survey found that workers are divided on issues including the return to the workplace, flexible working, and vaccinations. According to the research, just over half of UK employees think a COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for those returning to the office, while just under half don’t, and 12% say they won’t be taking the vaccine at all.

But it’s not just mixed opinions organizations should be aware of. The effects of the pandemic have been distributed unevenly among employees too, with some being impacted far worse than others.

Business leaders are now turning to their HR teams for guidance on how to bring people back together. But developing an effective strategy depends on first getting to grips with the problem.

Here are my four steps for doing this and helping to unite a divided workforce.

1.     Identify sources of division

The pandemic has reminded us that there’s no such thing as a universal experience.

Every employee has been challenged in different ways and at different times. HR teams need to understand these challenges and how they impact employees’ relationships with one another and their employers – and their overall engagement levels.

While this may seem a mammoth task at a large organization, it is possible – with the right technology –  to consistently collect and analyze employee feedback to then understand shifts in how your people are thinking and feeling.

What’s more, with ‘Intelligent Listening’ technology, HR leaders can be sure that they’re asking the right questions to the right people at the right time.

In doing so, they gain the real-time information they need to get to the bottom of any potential divisions in their workforces, and start developing solutions.  

2.       Re-establish goals and objectives

Common goals give employees a sense of shared purpose and belonging, which are important ingredients in engagement and productivity.

However, the best businesses are those which can adapt their goals to fit the climate and shift their strategy accordingly. We’ve seen this countless times during the pandemic. Just think of the number of restaurants that have started offering takeaway, or retailers that have established new product lines to meet changing consumer demands.   

A mistake some business leaders often make when going through these periods of transformation, however, is forgetting to bring their employees on board.

Having people on furlough or working from home can provide a further barrier to this, as communication may not be circulating as effectively, leading to some employees being unaware of current goals.

So it’s essential now that HR teams make a deliberate effort to ensure that everyone understands the company goals and strategy, and their individual role within that.

It may be that internal communications need to be reviewed. Are business leaders using the most suitable channels available to them to keep people abreast of changes?

HR leads should also encourage managers to highlight where great work has been done against new objectives – and all employees to celebrate this. This will help build a sense of organizational community, essential for overcoming divisions.

3.       Build foundations

Before organizations ask everyone to return to the workplace en masse, business and HR leaders must take a step-by-step approach to design a framework that works for everyone.

It’s important that they involve managers in this task because they will be crucial when it comes to reintegrating teams and managing divisions.

Managers will need clear guidance and support to ensure they are comfortable handling this delicate task. It’s important that data insights help to inform this work as managers will need real-time insights in order to take decisive action.

What’s more, when employees feel listened to, and cared about, this helps to build long term trust in their organisation.

4.       Acknowledge the situation

Despite the wishes of some, the world has changed. There’s no ‘going back to normal’ after a time like this.

Whether your organization has been on the front lines of the crisis or has had people working from home, it’s going to take time to settle into yet another new way of working once the pandemic is over.

Organizations must make it clear to employees that they understand, empathize, and will help to support each person as much or as little as they require until work once again works well for them. 

Asking employees the right questions, listening to what they say, and taking action is more important now than ever. It’s only with this information in tow that HR and business leads can expect to heal divisions and unite their workforce behind the organisation’s goals and strategies for the future.

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