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COVID-19: ultimate test for how employers really treat there people

Yetunde Hofmann, Managing Director - Synchrony Development Consulting

British companies must find a “new normal” that puts employee welfare at the forefront of the corporate ethos once the coronavirus lockdown is lifted, experts said yesterday.

A failure to do so will harm talent acquisition and retainment across sectors in the long-term, stifling financial recovery and future growth, it is claimed.

The current crisis is said to have exposed the “shameless, greed-orientated” character that underpins the majority of firms’ interactions with their workforce.

Despite business leaders making a “show and dance” of embracing employee-orientated leadership models in recent years, such as purposeful kindness or corporate compassion, these are often “thrown out of the window” when the going gets tough.

This is shown through “easy to fall on” measures such as the culling of staff or the suspension of workplace wellbeing and career development programmes.

Coronavirus has only underlined how companies tend to view their workforce as “disposable assets” rather than human beings, according to leadership and culture change management expert Yetunde Hofmann.

Pointing to the decision by companies such as British Airways to slash staff in the midst of the crisis, Hofmann says it shows a “fundamental disregard” for employees as anything more than ‘cash-cows’.

Hofmann, the managing director of international leadership and change consultancy Synchrony Development Consulting, believes that top-tier professionals will abandon employers who “fail to change their ways” for more ethical rivals when the government’s lockdown measures begin to ease.

The former Global HR Director for a FTSE 25 company said: “Many companies profess to care about their employees yet their actions, especially during times of financial crisis such as with the current coronavirus pandemic, show otherwise.

“Ruthless staff culls are the norm, while important welfare programmes are treated as perks that can be rescinded without notice.

“The response to the coronavirus crisis in some quarters has made this only too clear, betraying a primary profit and acquisition-based motivation at the heart of many businesses.

“When the crisis is over, it is not enough to return to normal. Companies must find a new normal that puts an end to them treating their people as nothing more than cash-cows.

“Those that do will prosper in the new world we find ourselves in. Those, however, who fail to change their ways will lose respect and, with it, the top talent who can be selective in where to invest their skills and expertise.”

The coronavirus pandemic has crippled the British economy as millions of businesses have been forced to temporarily shut down or dramatically scale back their operations.

In response, the British Government has promised billions of pounds of financial support to companies of all sizes including rolling out a job retention scheme enabling companies to furlough employees and receive a grant to cover 80 per cent of their salaries.

Firms such as British Airways – which announced at the end of April that 12,000 workers could face redundancy – have been heavily criticised in recent weeks for slashing their workforce during the crisis.

While it is too early to predict the full impact that the pandemic will have on businesses, UK economic forecasting group the EY Item Club  has estimated that it will take until 2023 for the British economy to return to pre-virus levels.

But Hofmann, a Visiting Fellow at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School and a Board Trustee of the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), thinks that the road to recovery will be much harder for companies that do not adjust their organisation’s direction after the lock-down ends.

She says that the virus has demonstrated to key stakeholders including employees and customers that many businesses operate on a ‘greed-based’ model that puts profits before people.

While this may have been largely allowed to fly under the radar before coronavirus, the crisis has created a new “spirit of solidarity” and recognition that every employee is a human being with a family to care for.

Hofmann, the author of new practical business guide ‘Beyond Engagement – The Value of Love-Based Leadership in Organisations’, said: “It is only by working together that we are coming through to the other side and this new-found appreciation for our workforce, key and non-key alike, will bring with it an insistence on treating employees as human beings, with their own needs above and beyond those of corporate targets and shareholder interests.

“The public will not want to do business with companies that prize greed above all else, while professionals will navigate towards those organisations that value them as individuals, not just as money-makers.”

Hofmann is the UK’s leading proponent of a new love-based leadership model that is based on the unconditional acceptance of all employees as human beings within a corporate environment, and the recognition of their value and contribution to a company, separate from their behaviour.

As her new book reveals, this radical love-based leadership model—which subsumes all previous compassion-based leadership styles—has been championed in one form or another by the likes of James Timpson OBE, the CEO of Timpson Group; John Mangan, L’Oreal’s managing director for the Luxury Division, UK and Ireland; and Tracey Killen, Director of Personnel at John Lewis Partnership.

She added: “Love-based leadership is a relatively new concept within the UK but is a critical leadership capability that is key to unlocking employee potential and productivity, fostering stronger stakeholder relationships across the supply chain, ensuring quality, and delivering sustainable growth.”

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