How did you support employees during COVID-19?
Around the globe, organizations continue to do their best to respond to the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. But as we move closer toward a solution, it’s critical to consider the long-term effects on your workforce.
As conversations continue around what a return to "normalcy" might look like, all eyes are on HR. And as individuals consider their next move, the big question on everyone’s mind will be whether organizations supported employees through the crisis, and if so, how they did.
In this article, we’ll explore why it’s crucial to support employees during a crisis and beyond and share low-cost ideas to help get you started.
Why is it important to support your employees through COVID-19?
1. It's an opportunity to live your values
Being human doesn’t have to come at a cost. Studies have shown that employees and customers are more likely to support mission-driven organizations. In fact, according to Accenture research, 63 percent of consumers globally prefer to purchase from companies with values that reflect their own. Challenging times create an opportunity to build deeper trust and loyalty with employees and can ultimately make your organization stronger on the other side.
Even if you’re forced to make hard financial decisions, such as layoffs or pay cuts, there are ways to do it with empathy and compassion that won't leave your team feeling wary.
When employees feel cared for, they often perform better. Something as simple as listening to their concerns and understanding their needs can be the key to prioritizing employee experience.
Employees, customers, and prospects will remember how companies acted before, during, and after a crisis. Likewise, candidates will take these actions into consideration when deciding whether they would join an organization.
2. Employer brand is at stake
Candidates and employees aren’t the only ones looking at your employer brand. Consumers also want to give their business to companies with practices that align with their values. With high-profile coverage of layoffs during the crisis and visibility into the employee experience on sites like Glassdoor, the spotlight is on what companies are doing in response to these challenging situations.
3. Stress impacts performance
In the face of ongoing uncertainty, it can be challenging for employees to stay motivated. Fears about the future, as well as workplace grief, can all hinder creativity and productivity. With this in mind, it’s important to provide resources to reduce employee stress. This could be something as simple as virtual movement practices or, with a little budget, virtual wellbeing resources like Calm or Talkspace.
4. Crisis doesn’t last forever
This particular crisis will ultimately come to an end – though it likely won't leave us where we started – so it’s crucial to consider how your company’s actions will inform success in the years that follow. If you neglect the employee experience during hardship, employee wellbeing is more likely to plummet, and you risk employee turnover as soon as the market recovers.
Beyond impacting your retention, this affects your employer brand and ultimately, your bottom line. Sometimes layoffs or pay cuts are unavoidable, but there is a way to handle them with compassion that will keep employee loyalty and your reputation intact.
How to support employees through the crisis
1. Listening is key
Employees have a lot of questions, doubts, fears, and unvoiced needs. It’s critical to ensure they feel heard. While under normal circumstances, too much pulsing can lead to survey fatigue, during periods of uncertainty, regular pulse surveys can help leadership prioritize meaningful employee initiatives.
Once you hear from your employees, you can identify and prioritize top-of-mind stressors and effectively allocate time and resources for quick wins with big impact. Measure the impact of your initiatives over time to keep track of improvements in morale, productivity, and employee engagement.
2. Train managers on emotional intelligence
Online trainings are a great (and often low-cost) way to equip everyone in the company with the skill set to navigate challenging times. Managers, in particular, have to find a way to bring compassion and empathy to their team members while also balancing their own challenges. It’s a heavy burden to bear, but by acknowledging it and providing them with the tools to help their team, managers will feel better supported by your organization.
3. Create opportunities to help employees stay connected
Employees are missing the water cooler conversations, team bonding activities, and other social aspects of work. Recurring virtual social meetings or check-ins can help employees stay connected and reintroduce work-life balance to this remote-first world. Proactively schedule virtual lunches, leadership AMAs, HR office hours, or group exercise classes to help reignite the connections traditionally made in the office.
4. Offer free resources for mental health
Even if you don’t have the budget to invest in corporate mindfulness subscriptions, there are countless resources available to support employee mental health. Meditation podcasts, yoga videos, or even free counseling through employee assistance programs (EAP) are easily accessible. Employees may just need the acknowledgment that it's okay to prioritize their wellbeing.
5. Provide transitional support
During trying times, businesses can’t always avoid cutbacks. If layoffs are unavoidable, consider offering resources to the affected employees to help them transition. It could be as simple as offering to be a reference, reviewing their resume, or sharing resources for logistics such as filing for unemployment or understanding your health insurance coverage.
Additionally, offer emotional support to employees who remain after layoffs. Providing HR office hours, manager 1-on-1s, or counseling resources will help employees stay motivated and engaged after undergoing rapid change.
6. Prioritize work-life balance
The traditional boundaries between work and life are more blurred than ever before. Remote work comes with its own set of difficulties, and it’s even more challenging when one’s home is the sole place for work, exercise, dependent care, and relaxation.
Budget permitting, providing a stipend for setting up a home office can make a major impact. Whether it’s a desk, a new chair, or a second monitor, a little can go a long way in terms of helping employees adapt. If this is not feasible, consider sharing resources to help employees organize their space more effectively.
Additionally, enabling employees to prioritize their wellbeing will help them keep burnout at bay. Encourage your employees to set clear working hours, disconnect when they’re not working, work flexible hours, and take the time they need to cope with any emotional stressors. Many people are grappling with grief, so it’s important to support a work-life balance that creates time for self-care.
Look to the future
If organizations can’t uphold their values during difficult times, those values didn’t mean much to begin with. Companies are more likely to fail if they can’t support their people through challenges. Employees, candidates, customers, and prospects are taking note of which companies support employee wellbeing and prioritize the employee experience, and which don't.
As challenging and destabilizing as this time has been for HR teams – and for every single human on the planet – HR leaders are facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen trust and engagement by showing up for their people and putting culture first.
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