A new Catalyst survey of 6,975 employees around the world suggests that more that two out of three employees believe their organization’s COVID-19 policies are not genuinely motivated by the care and safety of workers. “In White-majority countries, three-quarters of employees reported that their organization’s racial equity policies were not genuine,” the global non-profit states.

In their report, Words Aren’t Enough: The Risks of Performative Policies, the report’s authors state that “it’s not enough to announce policies or issue statements. Organizations must follow through and take meaningful action. The data shows that employees are savvy and recognize when company policies are merely performative – and when that is the conclusion they reach, there are consequences for organizations.” 

The report states that 68 per cent say their organization’s COVID-19 policies were not genuine. Those who did feel that policies were genuine, however, experienced more inclusion, engagement, feelings of respect, value for their life’s circumstances and ability to balance work and life demands. Notably, the sentiment also extended to employee’s intentions to stay with their current employers. Those surveyed who felt policies were genuine also experienced less burnout than others.

“The report is a wake-up call for CEOs and other senior leaders at a time when employers are still facing high turnover,” the report’s authors state. “Insincere policies can lead employees to question the overall ethics or values of an organization. With the great resignation, employees have demonstrated that they will take their talent elsewhere if an organization’s values don’t match up with their own.” They add that research shows that job candidates also prefer to work for organization they perceive as having high moral character. 

Indications to employees that a policy is performative include announcing policies or new training initiatives without following through and expressing concern without taking action. Pretending to create a new policy when the company is really just updating an existing one was also cited as an example. Advice for those looking to improve include taking steps to remove bias from hiring, taking steps to diversify senior leadership, continuously training employees on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and hiring a DEI expert.

In short, the advice for CEOs in the report is to become curious about what employees are living through, thinking and feeling. “Show them that you value their well-being. In other words, by displaying empathy,” the report states.