Advice for Senior Leadership: Your Employee’s Experiences Are Different Than Your Own

As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a surprising disconnect has emerged in today’s workforce.

In a recent internal survey, Microsoft found that workers are “struggling in pandemic work conditions” yet their business leaders are “thriving”. “Leaders are out of touch,” said Microsoft Vice President Jared Spataro in a Bloomberg article on the topic. “Sixty-one percent say they are thriving -- that's 23% higher than the average worker.”

At Entromy, we have seen this disconnect in our own research as well. In early 2020 as workers went remote, we conducted a COVID-19 Leadership study in partnership with management consulting company Kotter. When it comes to the outlook of their companies post COVID-19, we found that top-level executives were 9% more confident than middle management and 21% more confident than junior employees and individual contributors.

The data we’ve collected at Entromy across surveys supports this and we’ve seen that senior leaders have a skewed view of what’s happening in their organization. The executive teams have adapted well, but working parents, individual contributors, or employees who are lower in the organization often don’t have strong support systems – their experiences are much more challenging.

In this Q&A, Entromy’s CEO Jan Jamrich shares his insights on the topic and provides advice for leaders who want to be more connected to their employees.

1. You meet with leaders at different organizations all the time, often after they receive survey results on the state of their workplace. What trends are you seeing as they adapt to the changes brought on by COVID-19?

The difference between companies is striking. Organizations who have maintained a high level of employee satisfaction and engagement during the pandemic saw a positive impact on their business. We saw this in our Year in Change research, “Organizations where employees felt companies have been transparent about the effects of COVID-19 on the business were more than twice as likely to have their employees agree that their organization achieved stronger results than expected (43% for transparent organizations, 18% for non-transparent).” The senior leadership teams at organizations who perform better work hard to create an effective culture by measuring organizational health and maintaining two-way communication between managers and employees. On the other hand, if a CEO is not engaged in the survey process, we see it in the survey results. For lowest quartile of companies, CEOs rarely attend the survey readout sessions, and they typically only receive filtered results from their people managers.

As a leader, losing touch is dangerous and it is so much easier for this to happen in a virtual working environment. Our recent Year-in-Change report effectively supports this. We surveyed over 500 workers to see how the changes in 2020 impacted them and when we asked respondents to react to the question, “I personally have adapted well to change in 2020,” 81% of senior leaders said they have adapted well, compared to only 63% of individual contributors and managers. This 18% gap suggests that senior leaders may be in positions (financially or otherwise) that allow them to adjust more easily to changes in the workplace due to the pandemic.

Given this, it is no surprise that individual contributors (most often lower level employees) at an organization like Microsoft are thinking about change. In many cases, the leadership is not paying attention. Executive teams need to first be aware of this and assume that what they are experiencing is not necessarily the reality for their employees.

2. How can senior leaders revaluate core assumptions to ensure employees feel supported?

While maintaining levels of closeness especially working remotely is challenging, senior leaders need to build an effective understanding of the dynamics in their organization at all levels.

Through our technology, our clients have learned to identify and lean on naturally occurring patterns of collaboration and information flows across their workforce. We help them identify key influencers in their organization. When the right tools are in place, these employees can create a continuous feedback loop and allow leaders to make informed decisions based on the needs of employees. That’s because influencers are tapped into the key arteries of information flow in the organization and are the people other employees look to for input, advice, or ideas about what’s really happening in a company. Learn more about how you can engage these influencers in your organization here.

3. What are some steps CEO’s can take to stay aware of how their employees are feeling?

A lot of it comes down to communication and transparency. We often see in survey results that employees want more communication from their organization, yet the senior leadership team thinks that they are communicating enough. In this remote environment, the messages to employees often aren't filtering as deep into the organization as leadership think they are and so senior leaders need to understand are 1) How are the communications filtering down? and 2) What is it employees want more communication on?

Once these questions are answered, then leaders need to determine which channels to use to check-in. The pandemic set new expectations around transparency and just sending emails to employees is not always enough. What we recommend to our clients is to hold monthly team meetings and run bi-annual internal anonymous culture surveys and quarterly pulse checks to measure their progress against initiatives and have a continuous understanding of how employees are feeling.  Leaders should also coach managers to understand that if they’re unclear about something, chances are that the employees who report to them have 10x less clarity. Encourage your leadership team to ask questions and check in with their teams often.

Do you wish you had a better understanding of how your organization has adapted to changes brought on by COVID-19? Want to know how your employees are really doing? Entromy Future of Work assessments can help.

  1. Understand: Learn how your employees’ normal routines have been impacted and identify their primary concerns.
  1. Empower: Provide your managers with the essential information they need to support the evolving needs of their teams throughout the duration of the crisis.
  1. Mitigate: Develop risk mitigation strategies by leveraging the needs and insights of your organization.
  1. Communicate: Establish a channel for regular communication with your employees. Focus on their experiences and needs as your organization moves towards the new normal.

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