Business leaders talk about workplace communication and conflict in COVID-19


THURSTON COUNTY –– Local business leaders gathered remotely Thursday afternoon to talk about how employers reopen their businesses and how the coronavirus crisis affected communication for many local employees. 

In the time of COVID-19, workplaces have struggled with facilitating communication between workers, or between workers and managers. The requirement to work remotely, having many people in a team or office working on their own at home yet having to work together online, brought new challenges to communicating and even bring to light certain new types of conflict, said Jody Suhrbier, executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County. 

“In these last five months, we’ve all been called to continue to show up while really facing significant, transformational change all around us,” said Suhrbier. “So that creates stress, and new things can show up in the workplace based on that.”

Some of the things Suhrbier said have come up for many workers county-wide include changes in household income, school closures, supporting children while working and struggling with the bandwidth of an internet connection while so many are at home working or going to school virtually, to name a few challenges.

Some of these issues can have very concrete results in terms of working relationships and customer service, causing grievances amongst employees, high turnover in certain roles, and decreased productivity. This can cause more anxiety in workplaces about what the next steps are as employers discover their “new normal” and figure out how to continue to operate. 

“It’s important to acknowledge what a tough time this is and to offer flexibility when possible, and to offer support,” said Suhrbier. “What that does is it attends to some of our more basic needs. That’s what people need when they’re most stressed –– they need acknowledgment and they need support.”

Employers can also help smooth out conflicts between workers or help resolve issues in the workplace if “prickliness” or defensive behavior comes up, Suhrbier said, which can happen when employees face certain challenges at home or with each other. 

“Folks are stressed, and maybe it would be helpful for the team to push pause, and offer where they need support and where they can offer support to each other,” said Suhrbier. “It’s kind of back to that idea of acknowledgment, flexibility and support. Sometimes you just need to pause and let that wisdom [from the team] surface.” 

Other topics of discussion this week at Declassified centered around unemployment insurance claims and changes to how employees can continue to collect unemployment at the beginning of September. There are some things employers should watch for when trying to bring an employee back to work. 

Certain changes might come in September that affects how a business can bring an employee back to their jobs. On standby, that employee isn’t required to search for a job while they receive unemployment. That might change, however. 

“So if Sept. 1 comes and this gets lifted, you can put them on standby,” said Diane Rosado, unemployment insurance customer support programs and integrity manager for the Washington Employment Security Department. “What we’re asking is you don’t have to request standby right now, because there isn’t a job search requirement. So we don’t want you to have to request standby if there isn’t a requirement, but wait until we know that’s going to be reinstated on Sept. 1.”

Declassified, business, Thurston County businesses, Diane Rosado, Washington Employment Security Department, Jody Suhrbier, Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County, COVID-19, coronavirus, workplace


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