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COVID-19: What Employees Need From Leadership Right Now

COVID-19: What Employees Need From Leadership Right Now

Story Highlights

  • Gallup studied past crises to learn what leaders can do during COVID-19
  • Primarily, people need leaders to provide a path forward
  • Use five survey items to audit your leadership approach

How do you lead and inspire employees amid a global pandemic that's creating anxiety and uncertainty everywhere?

This is the most unusual and unpredictable crisis most of us have experienced in our lives. But there's no need to start from scratch in trying to confront it.

Gallup has studied global citizens' worries, fears and confidence during nearly every major crisis of the past eight decades -- including the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and World War II, the Kennedy assassination, upheavals and riots in the 1960s, 9/11, the 2008 global financial crash, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing is clear. Global citizens look to leadership for a crisis management plan -- and to provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to.

In times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can take us: fear, helplessness and victimization -- or self-actualization and engagement. On the latter, if leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient. There is a documented "rally effect."

Gallup meta-analytics have found four universal needs that followers have of leaders:

  • Trust
  • Compassion
  • Stability
  • Hope

If leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient. There is a documented "rally effect."

These needs are especially urgent during crises. People look for these top leadership traits as a signal that their life will be OK and that they can be part of the solution.

How to Audit Your Leadership Approach During COVID-19

To help leaders audit whether they are meeting these four needs and gauge what their people are thinking, Gallup reviewed past research, applied it to the current COVID-19 crisis, and developed a very short pulse survey that you can send out -- and get a high response rate in only two days.

We invested in this research and ongoing tracking as a public service. You can execute this research tool and get feedback on how you are doing today. You can use your own preferred platform or the Gallup Access platform.

The survey tool includes five items built around the most important actionable organizational practices that will increase trust, compassion, stability and hope:

1. My leadership has a clear plan of action.

Current Gallup tracking shows that only 39% of U.S. employees strongly agree that their employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to COVID-19.

2. I feel well-prepared to do my job.

Just over half of employees (54%) strongly agree that, considering the recent impact of COVID-19 on their job, they feel well-prepared to do their work. We are all adapting to this massive disruption.

A Gallup meta-analysis has found that during high-stress times, management approaches need to go back to the basics of clarifying expectations, reviewing material and equipment needs, and readjusting roles so that people can leverage their strengths in new ways. Further, each employee needs to see how they fit into the bigger picture of the organization -- its mission and purpose.

3. My supervisor keeps me informed about what is going on.

The supervisor or business manager is the key conduit, responsible for translating the organization's response to COVID-19 for each employee. Only the direct manager can know each employee's situation, keep them informed, and adjust expectations, coaching and accountability to inspire high performance.

Less than half of employees (48%) strongly agree that their immediate supervisor keeps them informed about what is going on in the organization as it relates to the impact of COVID-19.

4. My organization cares about my wellbeing.

Before the novel coronavirus outbreak, work and life were more blended than ever before. Now, with millions of people required to work from home and with millions of kids kept home from school, blending work and life is even more complicated -- and it's creating all kinds of unprecedented stress on employees' mental health and wellbeing.

A key predictor of low worry and high confidence is whether each employee believes, and experiences, that the organization is looking out for their best interest and workplace wellbeing.

Gallup has found five elements of wellbeing that each organization can act on in many different ways: career, social, financial, community and physical. When asked to consider the recent impact of COVID-19, less than half of employees (45%) strongly agree that their organization cares about their overall wellbeing.

A key predictor of low worry and high confidence is whether each employee believes, and experiences, that the organization is looking out for their best interest.

5. Over the past 24 hours, how often have you been practicing social distancing?

Scientists studying COVID-19, designing sophisticated models and projections, believe extreme measures of social distancing guidelines will be necessary to flatten the curve of this pandemic.

Employers play a major role in setting the expected norms, reinforcing what has proven to work in flattening the curve -- and the essential role employees play -- so that everyone can get back to "normal" life sooner rather than later.

We are fortunate to have technology to keep us together. But we all now have a responsibility to do something temporarily that defies our human nature -- to distance ourselves socially.

Only 27% of U.S. employees, as of March 19, say they "always" practice social distancing. Another 40% say they practice social distancing "very often."

Use Gallup's COVID-19 Leadership Audit Today

Gallup has found that the below Leadership Audit can be completed with a high response rate in a two-day window. You will quickly know how effectively you are responding to COVID-19. We recommend you use this tool immediately.

Custom graphic. Respondents were asked to think about the recent impact of the coronavirus (COVID-10) on their job and indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with each of five statements.

Learn more about leading through disruption:


Jim Harter, Ph.D., is Chief Scientist, Workplace for Gallup and bestselling author of Culture Shock, Wellbeing at Work, It's the Manager, 12: The Elements of Great Managing and Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. His research is also featured in the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller, First, Break All the Rules. Dr. Harter has led more than 1,000 studies of workplace effectiveness, including the largest ongoing meta-analysis of human potential and business-unit performance. His work has also appeared in many publications, including Harvard Business Review, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and in many prominent academic journals.

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