Is “We’re All in this Together” a Good Mantra for Corporate Workplaces?
It’s a deeply unpopular and risky thing to admit, but I have to say it: The “We’re all in this together” mantra is getting on my nerves. Like so many catchphrases of our current crisis, it feels like it’s grown pat and meaningless—like a cliché you hear so often you stop thinking about, or questioning, it.
At a time when employees may be struggling to cope with the new world created by the pandemic, is “We’re all in this together” the best mantra to reinforce in your communications to them?
Fast Company had an interesting piece that was published at the beginning of the crisis about how certain catchphrases had almost immediately taken off in advertising and marketing. Phrases like “We’re all in this together” are repeated so often not so much because they’re true, but because the brands marketing products and services are not sure what else to say. Falling back on a safe, society-approved phrase seems like the least risky thing to do.
Have your corporate communications to employees fallen into the same trap? You want to reassure your workforce that you stand by them, and that they should stand by each other, but you’re not sure of how exactly to say that, so you throw in a few “We’re all in this togethers” and feel you have covered your bases. It seems like the safest messaging, to repeat common phrases used in the media, but it could backfire if it happens not to be true.
For example, many companies have laid off a portion of their workforce. In those cases, did “We’re all in this together” turn out to be true? Not really. How does it look to one week send out a message to employees that “We’re all in this together,” and then the next week announce many employees have been laid off? When messaging doesn’t align with reality, mistrust is sown. Ultimately, a company’s actions, rather than pat catchphrases, are what inform employees’ impression of their employer.
There also is a question of whether employees are more reassured by messaging that reinforces their individuality and unique needs, or whether they feel more secure hearing that they are one entity with their co-workers and executives, and that everyone is in the same situation and everyone will be OK. In addition to the risk of messaging that doesn’t stand up to reality, many personality types (my own, for instance) don’t feel reassured by the message of being part of a monolith. It’s more reassuring to have sincere, individual-based communication from a manager or a mentor during the crisis. For many of us, the best approach is a heartfelt message from the CEO or president (no propaganda-like catchphrases, slogans, or clichés allowed) sending wishes for all of us to keep well, and noting the support the company will be offering to each individual employee through each employee’s manager. Rather than advancing the often-disingenuous message that “We’re all in this together,” the corporate head sends sincere, warm wishes and acknowledges that employees have unique needs and circumstances, which those most well acquainted with them—their bosses—will try their best to address.
In a crisis, a personalized response for each employee, rather than treating all employees as a monolith, is essential. The manager of a group of employees can offer support for an employee struggling to home school their child while doing their own work by helping that employee segment their daily work schedule to include home schooling breaks. Or maybe through interaction with an employee, a manager has learned that stores in that employee’s neighborhood that were previously open late into the night, or never closed, now are keeping limited hours, requiring all errands to be completed before 6 p.m. That manager would be able to reassure the employee that they can take an extra hour for lunch to get everything done they need to get done since many of the stores they need to visit will be closed by early in the evening. Incidentally, this has been my own situation—I have found my lunch hour to require two hours. In that one break during the day, I need to accomplish three things: my daily exercise, picking up lunch, and running errands. Before the pandemic, all these tasks were neatly spaced out throughout the day—walk to and from work as both transportation and exercise, walk for additional exercise at lunch and to pick up food, and errands on the way home.
Each manager also should step up and have conversations about how each employee is doing personally during the crisis. After calling to talk about the day’s, or week’s, assignments, the manager can ask: “And how are YOU doing?” Managers may be shocked at how good it feels to an employee to be asked that question, to be addressed as an individual in this crisis. The employee may be eager to have an honest conversation about things they might not be eager to talk about in a group setting, such as their annoyance with wearing face coverings or their frustration at not being able to do the things they most enjoy.
The “pan” in pandemic means “all.” It’s true that COVID-19—especially the response to it—has impacted the whole world. However, the impact that means the most, selfish or not, is how the crisis is changing the lives of each individual employee. Emphasizing messaging from individual manager to individual employee, rather than from corporation to employees as a monolith, is the most sincere, meaningful way to show you care.
How are you ensuring your messaging to employees during this crisis is authentic and meaningful?