Authors: Jenna Sneed Stephen Whalley
Over the past year, energy employers have responded to the business and human impacts of COVID-19. The first half of 2020 saw customers reacting by cancelling or delaying non-essential orders. As business stalled and the extent of the new reality took shape, energy employers had to make hard calls such as employee layoffs and salary reductions all while establishing new protocols for business continuity and employee safety. Throughout the last half of 2020 and into 2021, energy employers settled into a new normal, supported employees with caregiving needs, and began to see an uptick in business.
First Things First: Employees’ Physical Safety
Despite settling into a new normal, Gallagher's 2020 pulse survey data consistently reports protecting employees' safety as a top priority for energy employers.
Though a top priority, energy employers indicate having already implemented necessary physical safety precautions for field and office employees such as personal protective equipment (PPE), physical distancing, screening, controlled access to facilities, and remote work as appropriate. This signals that employers find themselves in largely a maintenance phase with respect to physical safety. This may provide breathing room in the sense that formulating a response and implementing new protocols is no longer a herculean effort. It's also human nature for new measures to lose their initial luster over time. Mixed with collective weariness of prolonged disruption, and combined with the promise of the COVID-19 vaccine; it's still important for energy employers to stay diligent in adhering to existing safety measures.
Shifting Focus to the Psychological Safety of Employees
A large Houston-based energy employer indicated they are looking forward to 2021. Orders are now flowing and delayed work is moving up to the head of the line for most energy customers given that products are urgently needed. This organization, like many others, reduced their workforce by 25% which means as business resumes, they will, at least in the short term, be fulfilling it with reduced headcount.
From strengthening employee wellbeing to managing a geographically fragmented workforce, our team is here to help.
Teams will be asked to perform more, differently, and with less people. This presents a different kind of safety to consider: psychological safety. Psychological safety is defined as the "shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking."1 In other words, team members feel it's safe to ask questions, raise concerns, and offer ideas; or put simply, to fully communicate.
This simple sounding concept has huge impact in every aspect of business. In fact, Google's Project Aristotle found that the single most important factor between low and high performing teams is their degree of psychological safety.2 Gallagher recently linked employee engagement and worker's compensation claim data to reveal that as perception of safety decreased, worker's compensation loss increased. This makes sense, as psychological safety underpins the safety beliefs and resulting behaviors that can lead to or prevent worker's compensation claims.
Psychological safety is also associated with team learning, performance, and customer experience.1 As energy employers navigate this new phase, fostering psychological safety will be critical for performance, adherence to COVID-19 and other industry safety standards, resiliency, and maintaining a compelling culture that attracts top talent when hiring ramps up.
With psychological safety being so critical, how do organizations foster it? Core themes associated with psychological safety are being available and approachable, inviting feedback, and modeling learning and fallibility.
Below are some concrete actions organizations and frontline leaders can take to support each category:
1. Being available and approachable
- Senior leadership rounding to share rationale for big decisions and hear employee feedback
- Frontline leaders dedicating time for team and 1:1 check-ins; and not allowing competing priorities to crowd this out
- Two-way authentic communication channels, e.g., town halls, and Q&A email that's regularly managed. Employees won't remember every communicated word, but they will remember the tone of the communication, and how they felt about the organization's response. This will be especially important as you rehire employees previously laid off.
2. Inviting feedback
- Organization-wide employee engagement and pulse surveys
- Focus groups or stakeholder interviews based on specific topics
- Frontline leaders explicitly inviting employees to provide feedback, and even opposing viewpoints, during team meetings and 1:1's
3. Modelling learning and fallibility
- Leaders openly sharing missteps and lessons learned
- Asking team members to share an approach to learning that aligns with cultural values in team meetings or highlighting in organizational communications
Leaders' response to the complex and changing energy business environment will significantly influence employee behavior and how they feel about the organization. Keeping both physical and psychological safety as a top priority will support both employee and organizational wellbeing and resiliency.
The Gallagher Energy insurance and consulting practice brings together a global team of expert consultants to guide you through the range of current challenges the energy industry faces today with risk management and HR and benefits programs that protect and promote stability and give you the confidence to grow.
- Worker's Compensation Claims Review
- Employee Engagement and Pulse Surveys
- Executive Search, Assessment and Training
- Leadership Training and Coaching
- Communication Resource Inventory
- Live or Virtual Employee Focus Groups
- Stakeholder Interviews