Management Style In a Pandemic

26th January 2021

With all of the challenges facing businesses and employees into 2021, adopting the most appropriate management style will be critical for your employees and for your business.

The new year will continue to provide challenges for business employers and managers.

  • The regulatory impact of Brexit, directly or indirectly, will force many businesses to review and improve their efficiency in order to remain competitive
  • Covid 19 continues to create uncertainty and disruption for businesses with lockdowns, staff shortages, staff sickness, self-isolation, and the furloughing of staff
  • Flexible and home working continues to present new challenges to managing people in an online world. Where flexible working isn’t practical, existing workplaces need to continue to adapt to social distancing guidelines, which can be costly.

So, what’s the issue?

Several years ago while attending a management course, I recall some survey statistics being presented that showed that during the last financial crash of 2008/09, which preceded a period of recession in the UK, 30% of managers in Europe and USA adopted a bullying style of management as a preferred approach to getting things done under pressure, such as reducing costs, streamlining processes, and getting decisions implemented.

Some examples of bullying behaviour are clarified by ACAS on its website and include such examples as:

  • abuse of power or position,
  • overloading competent employees and setting them up to fail,
  • unwarranted overbearing supervision,
  • unreasonably preventing or excluding employees from access to resources, promotion or personal development,
  • making unwarranted threats about job security.

In addition, there have been examples in the media of employees being bullied to attend work during the pandemic by their employer when they do not feel that it is safe for them to do so.

The impact of management style

It may be tempting for managers to adopt a similar approach to the pressures being faced today, but while it may yield short term gains in some circumstances, the gains are not sustainable because the cost of bullying behaviour is likely to be high in terms of a reduction in staff motivation and morale; loss of staff engagement and trust; loss of productivity and performance; and a reduction in staff retention.

In the current UK context such a style of management is likely to have long lasting negative consequences for the mental health of employees, where the degree of social isolation that people are having to continue to endure is raising increasing concern, particularly if they are employees working from home for most, if not all, of their working time.

It is a relevant fact that for most employees, working from home means exactly that, for example working off the kitchen table rather than a proper desk; working within a functioning household rather than a dedicated workspace with facilities; and possibly juggling simultaneous childcare responsibilities rather than face to face interactions with colleagues.

It is no surprise that working parents and women in particular appear to be the most vulnerable group according to recent survey findings from LinkedIn, which shows that almost 73% of women reported feeling work-related stress, compared to 57% of men.

“Our latest data shows women are spending more time than men working out of hours or searching for new roles – often while juggling work with increased family responsibilities. If we’re going to create a fair recovery, we have to recognise the impact the pandemic is having on individuals and offering greater flexibility to women and working parents who are balancing ever-more demanding workloads.”

It is vitally important therefore that managers pay practical attention to recognise the needs and circumstances of their individual employees especially women and working parents.

Looking after the mental health of employees will also look after the mental health of the business.

So, what is the most appropriate leadership style?

The increasing social distance between work colleagues is changing employee expectations about how they work together and how they are managed and led. A response to these trends can be found in an ‘Inclusive Leadership’ style, (see references), which involves four key behaviours.

Respecting and Inspiring others

  • Makes time to get to know others and builds understanding of their skills and motivators
  • Able to adapt approach according to the individual, situation and context
  • Provides feedback to boost people’s self-belief
  • Seeks out, reflects on and learns from feedback from colleagues
  • Holds others to account for non-inclusive behaviour
  • Avoids all forms of favoritism at work
  • Employs fair and transparent decision-making processes
  • Offers access to external counselling services to manage mental health

Encouraging involvement and collaboration

  • Strives to encourage everyone to share their views and ideas
  • Actively creates a culture where everyone in the team can make their strongest contribution
  • Persuasive without having to coerce
  • Creates an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up
  • Enabling access to a blend of home and other workplaces

By Bob Hicks, Employer Partner for Agile Nation 2 Business Programme


LinkedIn (2020), Workforce Confidence Index. [online]
ACAS (2020), Discrimination, bullying and harassment [online]
Forbes (2020), Management In Crisis: The Best Leadership Style To Adopt In Times Of Crisis
Bourke. J, Titus. A. (2020), The Key to Inclusive leadership. Harvard Business review.
Deloitte University Press (2016): The six traits of inclusive leadership