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  • Richard Bistrong

Let’s turn our ‘workplace morale crisis’ into a breakthrough for compliance.

Updated: Aug 17


This article initially appeared on The FCPA Blog, here and is reposted with the permission from the editor and publisher.


New research from the Society for Human Resource Management reported (unsurprisingly) that “41 percent of U.S. employees feel burnt out from work while another 23 percent report feeling depressed.” To the list of crises we’re facing as 2021 kicks off, add “workplace morale.” And as a recent post on the FCPA Blog suggested, the only real antidote to our workplace morale crisis is an injection of energy and resilience. Yet, how to do that in today’s virtual and hybrid world remains the big challenge.


There are no simple solutions. But if I had to focus on one approach, that would cascade to other solutions, it would be to establish a continual feedback loop. But with personnel already stressed and strained on virtual sessions, is it even possible to establish a continual feedback loop while keeping people out of the “digital dragon’s teeth,” as communication theorist Nick Morgan calls it?


Mr. Morgan, a prolific writer and author of Can You Hear Me: How to Connect with People in a Virtual World book, has warned that in our virtual environment, we “can’t keep up” or “decide the relative importance of all the stuff” coming at us. To overcome our individual limitations, Mr. Morgan recommends inviting “regular group input.”


He isn’t writing from a compliance perspective. But in compliance, the same limitations exist. If we want to make sure compliance initiatives are aligned with real-time risks, we need continual feedback from the field.


For example, a year ago, no one was writing about corruption risk associated with being declared an “essential business.” Yet now, that’s a persistent problem in many parts of the world, which can best be addressed if we know the many ways it presents itself. That level of real-time knowledge needs to come from a continual feedback loop.


The positive news is that the flow of information is no longer dependent on who might be in proximity to HQ, or to a sales office somewhere. Our virtual environment flattens out access to information and critical skills, meaning feedback isn’t limited to a “door knock.” This new environment has created opportunities for global feedback that were unimaginable just a decade ago. One of my compliance peers calls today’s feedback flow a “mini-pulse.” It beats through an organization and indicates with little delay whether an organization’s vital signs are healthy or impaired.


My suggestion: Takes a “mini-pulse” whenever possible. That might take some planning. For example, during your next training session, how about taking a “compliance coffee” with your attendees: ask for their input, solicit ideas and advice. Are you doubling down on scheduled training that isn’t critical right now to employee challenges, like travel and entertainment, while employees might need additional support in how to respond to virtual requests from public officials and channel partners?


We can’t always monitor body language or emotional responses during virtual training. But we can, as Mr. Morgan recommends, “go around the list” of attendees for a virtual stretch to “take everyone’s temperature.” That might mean less substantive training during each session (and therefore more sessions spread over time). But if the goal is to spark engagement, enthusiasm, and resilience — and establish pathways for future real-time feedback — isn’t that “compliance coffee” worth the trade-off?


And we can’t solve our workplace morale crisis with updated meeting software, more webinars, or a better audio/video feed. As Mr. Morgan reminds us, “video calls are sensory-poor experiences” and “are outstripping our attention spans.”


What we can do is connect. We can ask each other — in new ways — for support and feedback. One organization has organized “walk and talks,” where smaller informal meetings are organized around people streaming in (weather permitting) while taking a walk, or sitting on their usual park bench, with no set agenda, just to share issues and ideas. Why not?


Our ability to create continual feedback loops that will help us overcome the workplace morale crisis and meet today’s compliance challenges is limited only by our imagination, not technology.