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The COVID-19 crisis has forced small and mid-size business owners to take a deep look at their resource strategy during slow-downs and closings. With government aid eligibility allocated by business headcount, furloughs and layoffs in the forefront of the news, and unemployment claims piling up in record-breaking volumes, there is no question that employees are front and center in the minds of leaders in the Age of COVID. From creative strategies for stretching savings into payroll until SBA checks arrive to realizing that unemployment may be the best option for getting money to the families in need, it is easy to focus on the financial ties that bind an employer to their team when trying to “do the right thing”. But there is more to it than that.
While the financial ties between employee and employer are foundational, successful leaders recognize a responsibility well beyond the paycheck. Much like the businesses in a supply chain are considered strategic partners, smart leaders view their employees in the same light. They recognize the importance of communication and actively manage the health of a relationship that extends beyond financial compensation.
Progressive employers continue to support the overall well-being of their workforce, mentally and physically. Employee Assistance Programs, an often underutilized component in many plans, are being highlighted to ensure that individuals receive the mental health support they need in a time so heavily focused on physical safety. Others are going beyond traditionally defined benefits by recognizing the need for continued virtual team meetings, virtual team happy hours, and even virtual team yoga sessions. Some teams are even holding full day video calls so that they can see and interact with each other, almost as if they are in the same room. They are feeding the human need for connection in a world practicing social distancing.
Leaders who are embracing this human element of their operations are also realizing that even the small moments and gestures take on new meaning. This can be as simple as taking half an hour every afternoon just to chat with your team to make sure everyone laughs at least once each day. Offering flexibility in working schedules to parents who are suddenly juggling full time parenting, home schooling, and their own jobs, creates lasting bonds and loyalty. Reassuring employees that a drop in productivity will pass and recognizing the very real struggle to wake up and turn on the computer each day despite the claustrophobia and uncertainty might be the best support a leader can offer. It might even be enough; it is how you treat your employees during a crisis that is how they will remember your leadership when business normalizes.
Some companies even continue caring for their people after they are no longer technically a part of their workforce. Formally, health insurance companies are giving employers the option to extend benefits for employees who have been laid off or furloughed. Informally, including furloughed and laid-off workers in virtual happy hours, communications, and other activities maintains the human touch when the financial tie has been cut.
COVID-19 has placed all of us, leaders, employers, and employees alike, in difficult positions. For employers in particular, reducing headcount and focusing exclusively on the bottom line is more plausible than it has been for years. But the companies who realize that employees are beyond the bottom line will have loyal and motivated workforces, ready and waiting when the dust settles. Are you looking forward to hiring in a COVID-immunized world?