If you haven’t heard, 2020 has been a tough, crazy, roller-coaster ride of a year. I know, I know, I realize that’s all a big… understatement. Unfortunately, there’s still so much uncertainty surrounding our personal and professional lives. COVID cases in the United States are surging once again, creating anxiety for many. As we put an end to this rather strenuous year, we are left wondering what 2021 has in store for us.
In 2020, we experienced a myriad of personal challenges. Many people lost their jobs or had their hours reduced, and a variety of businesses suffered. If you were lucky, you got to work remotely for the first time and discovered that it worked really well on an individual level and for the business. For other remote workers, they were relieved to keep their jobs but felt alone and disconnected at home. Others had to figure out how to work alongside their spouses, roommates and children… all day.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your business operations in our new reality, your company’s actions are more important than ever and will have lasting effects on your employees. Are you, as a company, ready to keep your workforce engaged and keep morale high?
It’s been a stressful year, and anxiety is on the rise with all of the unknowns. Factor in the holidays, and now is the perfect time to help your employees take care of their mental health and physical well-being. According to a survey by Everest College, 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, and that was pre-COVID. When employees are worried or anxious, their work suffers and productivity falls. Here are a few suggestions to help employees:
Every employee’s situation is unique. You could have employees tending to children who are doing school virtually. You might have some employees who are taking care of elderly parents. Others might be home alone with no one to talk to.
Therefore, being flexible can mean different things to different people. Those who are night owls may feel at their best working from 1 pm to 10 pm. For early risers, they may want to work 5 am to 2 pm. Employees with children doing school virtually may want to go from 5 am to 9 am, break until 3 pm, and then work until 7 pm.
Of course, this all depends on the flexibility of the job itself. A customer service role with fixed hours for customers might not lend itself to that kind of flexibility, but there may be other ways to stay flexible that alleviate employee stress and make sense for your business. The important thing is that the solution is a win for both the employee and the company factoring in your business needs and constraints. Some ideas include:
Communication is an integral part of any relationship, and that includes employer and employee. Be open with your employees. Let them know how things are going and about any changes you are looking to implement. Ask them for suggestions (and allow them a way to submit them anonymously).
Use your communication methods, like emails, video calls, Slack, and Teams, to update your employees on how things are going and what you are doing to protect their health and safety. Divulge what information you can about how you plan to continue to provide your product or service to customers.
Emphasize face-to-face conversation. Now that everyone is home (sometimes alone), it may only take a simple 5-minute Zoom call to check-in, see a smiling face, and know that they are cared about and valued as an employee.
Working from home has its benefits, and saving time on commuting is one of the biggest, whether that means 30 extra minutes to spend with your family or 15 minutes additional sleep! Career development and learning is a great way to spend some spare time. Encouraging your employees to engage in professional or personal growth will add to their enjoyment of their day.
There are many different learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, or webinars for those interested in learning. Employees who are willing to take business-related courses should be encouraged to do so during the workday as long as it does not interfere with their duties.
While your employees are still working, it doesn’t mean their spouses or partners kept their jobs. Helping your employees in any way will show that you care about them as people and not just employees.
Some ideas might include a gift card to a local grocery store, covering the cost of home delivery meal services, or giving your employees a stipend to make working at home more comfortable.
If higher-ticket presents are not possible right now, then think smaller. Your employees will still appreciate small personal gifts. For example, a bag of popcorn and two sodas make a great movie night. A bottle of wine, cheese, and glasses would make an excellent date night for the employee who just got married. For the employee who has young children at home, an age-appropriate toy for their child (nothing that makes noise!) would be cherished.
James K. Harter, Ph.D., put it best when he said, “In good times, employee engagement is the difference between being good and being great. In bad times, it’s the difference between surviving and not.”
The most important aspects in supporting your employees and boosting morale right now are to embrace empathy and remain human. The COVID pandemic has been an unprecedented event, and there is no “right” way to handle it.
At the end of it all, your team will remember how they were treated through the tough times. During any crisis or challenge, how you serve your employees will go a long way in determining if they jump ship as soon as they can, or remain loyal and engaged once things turn around.