Seven COVID-19 Culture Casualties

BIC - May 2022
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Printable Version

It has been two years since the world changed with the spread of COVID-19, with little certainty as to when life will return to what was previously perceived as "normal times" or, alternately, find our "new normal." However, let not the lessons be lost on us.

March 2020, my in-person work came to a halt, but I never stopped working with and advising my clients as they dusted off their business continuity plans and began creating and implementing new and unanticipated protocols. I started traveling almost weekly in the summer of 2020. I have toured dozens of locations across most industries, interviewed thousands of employees remotely and in person, and observed the safety practices of all of these companies. I have a great understanding of COVID-19's impact on many of these company cultures. These are the seven most common culture casualties I've observed.

Communication Suffered, and So Did Trust: Many companies lost the ability to dialogue with people and resorted to simply sending signals. The free flow of information to those who needed it most was compromised. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a decrease in trust levels throughout these companies.

Changing Staffing Levels: Staff shortages have been problematic for many, putting pressure on the existing workforce. In several industries, the demand for their product increased drastically. Attracting, hiring and retaining talent must be a key area of focus.

Work-Life Balance Compromised: An increase in workload and demands required many employees to work overtime. With the distractions of health impacts from COVID-19, educating children at home instead of school and the stress of being away from home longer in the day, many employees felt overworked and exhausted. I learned of many vehicle accidents that occurred with employees driving home after many longer-than-usual days.

Decrease in Average Tenure: With the need to change or increase staff in some businesses, the average tenure has decreased, so has the average knowledge level. This requires experienced workers to spend additional time helping new employees learn their jobs and the associated hazards and risks.

Decrease in Standardization: Where there was an increase in new employees, I have also found new employees training newer employees. Where this occurred, I'm finding new and multiple common practices rather than the standard way the work is performed.

Decrease in Oversight and Influence: Several companies have either lost supervisors or supervisors' span of control and influence has been compromised with an increase in personnel. Overseeing more people with the increasing administrative burden placed on many first-line supervisors decreases their ability to perform their most important roles, including coaching employees.

Reduced Sense of Teamwork: Where people would regularly collaborate in person, virtual meetings and remote work now dominate the workforce. Moreover, as I've heard from many, the safety conversation focuses primarily on industrial risks, leaving workers at home to feel that safety topics are not relevant, nor considering the different risk profiles they are working within.

We must investigate both what went well and what suffered during the response to COVID-19. What makes our safety strategy fragile or resilient? How can we make our continuous improvement efforts more agile? There will be future disruptions and detractors to your safety strategy. How prepared will you be for the next one? As the great boxer and philosopher Mike Tyson warned, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

Shawn M. Galloway is the CEO of ProAct Safety and co-author of several bestselling books. As an award-winning consultant, adviser, leadership coach and keynote speaker, he has helped hundreds of organizations within every major industry to improve safety strategy, culture, leadership and engagement. He is also the host of the highly acclaimed weekly podcast series Safety Culture Excellence®.
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