by Rachel Lake
Since March, unemployment has spiked and workers around the country are afraid of losing their jobs. As we enter a global economic downturn, businesses must take additional measures to reassure their workforce and boost morale. The following guide explains how to provide meaningful support to your employees and help them acclimate to the new normal.
8 Tips for Supporting Your Team During a Crisis
1. Give employees the option to stay home.
Businesses are starting to reopen across the country, but not everyone feels safe about returning to work. If employees can complete their job responsibilities remotely, give them the option to stay home. This approach will help curb the community spread and protect people from unnecessary exposure.
If some tasks must be completed in person, consider taking steps to minimize contact between employees. This could include:
- Positioning workstations at least six feet apart.
- Asking employees to report on-site in shifts or only on certain days of the week.
- Providing masks, hand sanitizers, and air purifiers.
- Limiting the number of people who are admitted to the building.
- Increasing the cleaning and sanitation frequency.
2. Provide equipment for working remotely.
Poll your workforce to see if your employees have what they need to work comfortably. If some workers intend to stay home for longer than a few weeks, consider providing a second monitor, a subscription to a business communication platform, a password management system, a cloud-based data structure, and additional resources that facilitate working remotely.
3. Offer scheduling flexibility.
Most employees need to work around other household members during the quarantine. If possible, let your staff make their own hours—this flexibility will be invaluable to parents, for example, who might need to help their kids during the day.
Encourage your team to allocate specific time slots on the calendar and set deadlines for assignments with a conservative buffer. Trust your team to manage their time effectively; if performance issues arise, address these cases individually and with tact.
The company will look to its leaders to demonstrate compassion during a crisis. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt from New York University demonstrates in a series of studies employees are more loyal and hardworking if they believe their manager is kind. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows the effect could be even more influential than an employee’s salary.
Columbia Business School defines the “trust factor” and its impact on crisis management.
4. Help employees decompress.
Host happy hours, water-cooler chats, and other social events to help people feel connected. You can encourage attendance by scheduling sessions during working hours and participating occasionally. For large enterprises, it might make sense to organize events by location or department to give everyone an opportunity to talk.
If your company uses a communication platform like Slack or G Suite, consider starting a thread for communication that’s not work-related. For example, people enjoy exchanging pictures of their new “work assistants”—AKA household pets.
5. Expand PTO and healthcare packages.
Comprehensive healthcare coverage encourages people to seek treatment if they become ill.
Now is a good opportunity to review your benefits package and consider adding additional services, such as full diagnostic coverage, mental health resources, telehealth appointments, wellness consultations, etc.
6. Show empathy and concern for your team.
Work closely with your internal communications team to reassure employees of their importance to the company. Your communication strategy should address common concerns, like sick time, and provide mental health resources and a point of contact in HR.
Increase the frequency of your communications, balance instructive content with positive updates, and add a personal, human touch to every interaction. If possible, tailor the message to a specific audience segment—for example, by talking to employees in a shared location or department instead of addressing the masses. You might also want to consider going the extra mile by sending employees care packages.
If you change any of your company’s policies, formalize these updates in writing. This adds a layer of security for employees who might want to revisit the information later.
7. Adjust your expectations…
It’s impossible to understand what all your employees are going through during the pandemic. While some might enjoy working from home, others are struggling to get through the day. We’ve all been affected by the pandemic in some way—whether it’s a feeling of loneliness, fear for loved ones, or by experiencing illness firsthand.
Crisis hotlines are overwhelmed with callers seeking help for anxiety and depression. The Pew Research Center reports nearly 1 in 5 Americans said they felt nervous or anxious most or all the time during a 7-day period.
The U.S. is facing a mental health crisis in addition to the pandemic. Don’t expect your team to work at their normal capacity. Instead, decentralize and delegate decision-making between key individuals and develop new efficiencies. If you use this time to analyze business operations, you could emerge on the other side of the pandemic more agile and responsive to change.
8. …But hold people accountable.
If members of your team are underperforming, talk with them candidly. Ask questions to identify roadblocks and come up with a solution together. You might assume their attention is divided during working hours, for example, when the real problem could be a communication breakdown caused by social distancing.
Before you discuss a difficult topic with an employee, consider:
- If any of your actions contribute to the problem.
- If you set clear expectations that they understand.
- What aspects of their work have changed since the lockdown?
- Is the employee computer-literate and do they have the technical support they need?
Try to avoid accusatory language and start from a position of concern—your first goal is to support the employee to help them succeed.