The COVID pandemic has made it even more difficult for managers to provide their employees with the necessary resources to do their jobs.  This is especially problematic when many are working from home and may not have the appropriate bandwidth (literally and figuratively) to perform optimally. 

But what if your organization doesn’t have the financial means to provide these resources?  Is there anything that you can do to prevent employees from becoming disgruntled, disconnected, or burned out? 

When employees muster the courage to tell their bosses that a lack of resources is negatively impacting their performance, replying with the boiler plate, “Sorry, we don’t have the budget,” can have deleterious consequences.  Not only will employees become frustrated or even angry, but they are more likely to interpret this as a lack of organizational caring.  The result is disengagement and burnout. 

And you need to be concerned as the stress of the COVID pandemic continues to create anxiety and burnout in your workforce. 

So if budgets are tight, how can you as a manager make the argument with senior leaders that it’s important to find a way to provide these resources or at least offer alternatives to make it easier for employees to perform at their optimal levels? 

One thing to remember is that employees not only want and need these resources, but also want to make sure that you are listening to them and empathizing with their frustrations when they make their requests.  The request for additional resources or help is a golden opportunity to embrace more compassionate leadership.  By working together to resolve these limitations, it becomes much more likely that you will retain their levels of commitment and engagement that are crucial to organizational success.  

But perhaps the most overlooked thing to remember is that many of these resources are NOT provided with money.  While many things do have a financial cost, I would assert that just as many employee complaints are NOT solved by throwing money at the problem. 

And that is a good thing because it provides you with flexibility in responding to their needs. 

Here are a few specific tips that can help you shape this important negotiation when responding to employee requests for additional resources: 

  1. If you can’t afford to hire more employees to help with the workload, don’t fall victim to the belief that the ROI will be higher by “doing more with less.”  While a smaller workforce can lower payroll costs and potentially increase corporate profit, research has shown that the actual ROI might be much lower.  A Newsweek article reported that the projected cost savings associated with layoffs and downsizing were often significantly over-estimated as a way to cut expenses. 

    Especially during COVID, employees are falling prey to a plethora of stressors that can and will impact their ability to fully perform – whether they have returned to the workplace or are working remotely.  When employees say that they can’t keep up, believe them – then take steps to change or redistribute the workload if you legitimately can’t afford to bring on additional workers.  Remember:  not all workers have to be full-timers, so consider temps, contractors, or even permanent part-timers to reduce the work stress on employees. 
  2. If budgets are so tight that you can’t provide the necessary resources, don’t expect employees to react logically and without emotion.  Refusing an employee’s often passionate plea for additional resources will trigger responses that often have nothing to do with simple financial metrics.  The lack of resources might be requiring them to work additional hours (often unpaid if they are exempt workers under FLSA) to create and implement a roundabout substitute.  This creates frustration which often transforms into the apathy associated with burnout.  Also in contrast to the over-estimation of financial savings by not providing the resources, “soft” costs are often under-estimated or ignored.  But it is these “soft” skills of creativity, perseverance, tenacity, and flexibility that determine whether an organization succeeds or fails.    

    COVID has triggered a litany of fears and anxieties in people around the world, making them feel more vulnerable.  It’s important to recognize these very real human fears and how your refusal to provide the requested resources and exacerbate them.  By ignoring employees’ complaints about insufficient resources impeding their work performance, the expected response is frustration, anger, apathy, and burnout – which makes workers emotionally, mentally, and physically unable to meet organizational goals.
  3. If employees are not meeting performance standards due to an identified lack of resources, don’t evaluate their results in isolation.  Performance is inherently contextual.  Especially during COVID, it’s imperative to consider the effect of factors and other constraints that are outside the employee’s control but are influencing their ability to succeed in their jobs.  While this insight has always been appropriate during performance reviews, COVID has made this even more important. 

    During COVID, employees were suddenly required to set up home offices – in addition to setting up space for home schooling their children.  Is their Internet access stable?  Are they having trouble finding a quiet place to work?  Consider how these variables might impact their performance.  Refusing to provide or at least help to find alternatives for what is missing will be evidence of whether or not you actually care about your workers as people or simply as cogs in an organizational wheel.  Employees who believe that their organization does not care about its workers will become disengaged, uncommitted, and burned out.

My research on burnout during organizational change found that inadequate resources were in the Top 5 workplace stressors that led to employee burnout.  COVID has tested employers’ abilities to provide necessary and often unforeseeable resources to achieve organizational goals.  It has forever changed the world of work. 

But COVID can also be the spark that helps companies better engage with their employees and increase the level of mutual trust and commitment to their well-being.  So talk with your employees about what they need and then work together to find win-win alternatives.  The result can relieve employee stress and significantly reduce the probability of burnout. 

© 2021 G. A. Puleo.  Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on transforming the world of work by eradicating burnout.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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