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Compliance leaders have the cure for burnout in the virtual workplace

It takes some imagination, but our virtual work environment — our new normal — can allow “valuable interpersonal networks to survive and even thrive,” according to two professors at the Rutgers Business School, Daniel Levin and Terri Kurtzberg. And compliance leaders are in a unique position, at a unique time, to be a “broker” of those interpersonal networks and a trusted source of information and camaraderie.

If managed correctly, compliance leaders can emerge from this crisis with workforce relationships that are both deeper and wider. How? By being able to “actively cultivate feelings of solidarity and shared mission,” according to Professors Levin and Kurtzberg. While other operational functions are understandably distracted now, compliance teams can also be communication leaders, and “spark” the value that the authors referenced by affirmatively addressing “the difficult circumstances that employees are working through.”

In their article that was originally published in the MIT Management Review, Professors Levin and Kurtzberg share how companies “can and should proactively maintain the esprit de corps of employees,” by using “network brokers . . . who can act as the bridges between otherwise disconnected groups.” And who better to bridge and broker those relationships among a globally dispersed workforce than compliance leaders?

Even in this current environment, compliance teams continue to have direct access to diverse and even isolated parts of the workforce, whereby E&C leaders can proactively build “bridges between otherwise disconnected groups.” And by doing so, compliance teams, perhaps even more in our “virtual” environment, can become a trusted source of connection and information, encouraging employees in the organization to reach out for help on compliance matters when they need it most, by affirmatively communicating when an issue isn’t necessarily at hand.

In my work, I’ve seen how business teams bring their “best selves” to live events. And if compliance leaders remain similarly thoughtful and vigilant about on-line engagements, they can shift the perception from virtual events being thought of as “regrettable substitutes” to one where bonds with the workforce can be maintained and even strengthened. While that might sound counterintuitive, Professors Levin and Kurtzberg provide a thoughtful roadmap.

As to the format, they suggest using “a variety of communication channels.” That’s great and practical advice. As I learned from Christian Hunt, former Managing Director of Behavioral Science at UBS last week on a webinar we co-hosted, “just because you can invite someone to a webinar doesn’t mean you should.” Keeping people on back-to-back video conferences all day can be a cognitive drain, even on those who are not easily distracted , and can lead to disengagement, or worse, “tuning-out.”

Professors Levin and Kurtzberg also recommend switching it up — sometimes using a friendly text or email, just to say hello, so that every interaction doesn’t have to be via a video conference — thereby increasing “the odds of having a positive and productive interaction.” In other words, compliance leaders don’t have to over-engineer their outreach; a “good morning,” or “how was your weekend?” can sometimes be the better choice.

Professors Levin and Kurtzberg provide us with wonderful advice as to how virtual interactions can foster “valuable interpersonal networks” in our new norm. As such, compliance leaders now have a unique opportunity to make sure that social distancing doesn’t mean integrity distancing, by proactive, consistent, and multi-channeled communications.

“Sustaining Employee Networks in the Virtual Workplace” by Daniel Z. Levin and Terri R. Kurtzberg is here.

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