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Boosting Morale After a Tough Year

December 14, 2020

By: Wendy Sheaffer

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 end 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 business. They were relieved to keep their jobs for other remote workers 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?

Make Mental Health a Priority

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: 

  • Provide a survey to your employees about their stress levels, and see where you can be the most supportive. Make this anonymous so that employees feel comfortable being honest. These surveys can help you pinpoint a trouble area and help fix that for your employees.
  • Make time for fun and humor. People are no longer gathering around a water cooler or taking micro-breaks to see how their cubicle neighbor’s weekend was. A low-key 4 pm “happy hour” Zoom call where they can relax and not talk about work would be a welcome change of pace. You can even set up a game to do over Zoom, like a scavenger hunt - something that will help your employees relax. 
  • Help your employees by watching their hours. For example, if you notice someone sending out emails regularly at 9 and 10 pm, let them know that you care about them. And while their work is appreciated, you do not want them to burn out. Noticing will show that you care and are mindful that your employees need to create work/life balance even if they’re in the same space right now. 

Be Flexible 

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 from 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. Still, 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: 

  • Compressed schedules, such as a four-day week with 10-hour days. While the employee still works 40 hours, they are getting an extra day off each week to manage personal things or decompress. 
  • Job sharing.
  • Rotating shifts.
  • Risk-free opportunity for extended time off (sabbaticals) and caregiving leave. 
  • Flexible PTO. Take away employees' need to classify time off (sick days, holiday, emergency, vacation).
  • Makeup hours for activities under 2 hours instead of having to use PTO hours.
  • Unlimited PTO. While the word unlimited might sound scary to employers, this can be effective in some, though not all, businesses. It increases trust and loyalty, and you will find that most of your quality workers will not abuse the privilege. Unlimited PTO means employees are allowed to take as much free time as they want as long as it does not affect their ability to complete their work. Unlimited PTO works very well as long as guidelines are set up (for example, it must be manager-approved if more than a week in a row, etc.) 

Encourage Communication

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.

Promote Career Development

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. 

Little Extras Go a Long Way

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.

Wendy Sheaffer

Wendy is the former Chief Product Officer of The Omnia Group. She is a subject matter expert in behavioral assessments and in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. For more information, email or call 800.525.7117.

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