COVID: Doing What’s Right Requires Trust, Connection

March 17, 2021
Kathleen Brennan

Whether working from home, or onsite, COVID-19 has strained all employees, but some have been impacted more than others, particularly women and younger workers.

Yet some employees reported feeling more meaningfully and deeply connected to their company, coworkers, and direct managers when those managers exhibited and embodied certain behaviors and attributes, according to a report on human connection in the workplace from The HOW Institute for Society, started by LRN Chairman and Founder Dov Seidman.

Managers who inspire others, demonstrate a commitment to doing what’s right, and whom extend trust to employees to navigate and manage new tensions between work and life are showing moral leadership, which is an important predictor of having employees be not only engaged at work but inspired. 

When their managers displayed moral leadership, half the report’s respondents were more likely to report feeling engaged at work, and 60% were more likely to report feeling even more meaningfully engaged since the start of the pandemic.

Understanding what touches people’s hearts–not just the minds of employees, and allows people to connect deeply to their organizations–may have been one of the biggest imperatives for business during this crisis. It’s at least been on par with other priorities such as communicating business imperatives, continuing digital transformations, changing strategy, or managing ethical risks.

“Even prior to the pandemic, people experienced loneliness in spite of being more technologically connected than ever,” said Seidman. “The ties that allow humans to work together effectively–an animating ethos, shared mission and values, the trust needed to collaborate and innovate, and the levels of empathy and understanding for forge deep human connection–were fraying. When COVID-19 emerged, as this data proves out, it accelerated and amplified these forces.”  

So, what does this all mean for ethics and compliance? In a world where we are always connected but physically separated, the report shows how we connect, how we communicate, how we stay aligned, how we relate to each other, how we engender trust in our relationships, and how deeply we show our loyalty matters more than ever, said Seidman.

As most of the world began various lockdowns to slow the spread and impacts of the COVID-19 on year ago, organizations scrambled to protect employees and maintain operations, all while ensuring they stayed true to their values and commitments to ensure responsible and ethical business behavior.  

Here are some of the lessons learned by E&C professionals since the start of the pandemic:

  • Values-based ethics and compliance programs allow companies to be more resilient in crisis.
  • Rules-based, check the box programs are backward looking, based on past missteps, and rely on prohibitions to deter misconduct.
  • Employees are inspired to work ethically without direct physical supervision, and values guide the best decisions during uncertainty because they are based on what one should do, not what one can do.
  • Putting the needs of people first and being openly transparent about business challenges has created stronger bonds and built trust.
  • Many leaders rose to the occasion and strengthened ethical culture despite the challenges of remote work.  
  • Shared values, not just shared interests, are what truly connect and foster values-based cultures and institutions. 
  • Necessity is the mother of invention, and new approaches for a more virtual world–like simplifying policies and procedures, web-based and interactive learning, and more mobile access–are here to stay. 

This is an initial report on human connection in the virtual workplace that builds on a growing body of research from The HOW Institute for Society, based on its “Framework for Moral Leadership,” on the nature of connection.  

“The State of Moral Leadership” report released in late 2020 found the imperative for organizational leaders across all sectors is at the heart of the work of ethics and compliance–no longer to just do the next things right, but rather to do the next right things. 

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