The novel coronavirus and resulting lockdown has been stressful for everyone, so it's important to show your employees how thankful you are for their hard work and sacrifice.
Whether it's offering a special day off to help your team relax or going the extra mile to send care packages to your employees' homes, there are many ways you can show your workers how much you appreciate their dedication to your business. To highlight some ways you can boost employee morale during extreme circumstances – the pandemic, natural disasters or other calamities – we spoke with employers, business owners and other professionals to see how they've showered their workers with recognition, flexibility, or other bonuses to boost morale and convey their appreciation.
1. Reach out to each employee and thank them.
As webcams and Zoom meeting rooms take the place of the face-to-face meetings, it's easy for interactions with your employees to feel impersonal. Nearly every employer we spoke to said they made an effort to schedule virtual one-on-one meetings with the express intent of gauging employee happiness, job satisfaction and morale while also making sure workers feel heard.
For MyCorporation CEO and business.com community member Deborah Sweeney, the concept of suddenly going fully remote is not new. Her company office in Calabasas, California, had to be evacuated during the Woolsey wildfire in 2018. Unsure that there would be an office to return to, the entire company sprang into action, adopting full remote measures to keep the business running.
Though the company ultimately returned to the office, which was unscathed in the blaze, Sweeney said each employee immediately picked up on the importance of leadership remaining "calm and understanding of each specific employee's situation."
"Reach out and connect with each staff member on a regular basis to see how they are doing," she said. "The simplest way to show your appreciation for your team is also in your messaging. Say 'thank you' often. Tell your team members that they are awesome in emails sent directly to that specific team member and publicly in companywide messages."
Such an action shouldn't be a one-time occurrence. Rather, it's a way for you to continually buoy morale by expressing gratitude and recognizing employee efforts.
Your check-ins with individual team members should also go beyond their work responsibilities. If you're comfortable doing so, you should inquire about their lives outside of work. For example, ask how they're holding up in dealing with work and family responsibilities at the same time. Since the lines between personal and professional lives have blurred, helping employees come up with strategies to juggle the two could take a major weight off their shoulders.
"It might sound cliche, but small courtesies like asking how [my employees] are doing and how they are holding up shows them that I care about their well-being," said Lisa Chu, owner of Black N Bianco. "During this pandemic, I've spent a lot of time talking to my employees on a personal level. I wanted them to know that their jobs were secure. ... My employees are the backbone to my business, and without their contribution I would not have success. Showing I genuinely care is the least I can do in these troubling times." [Read related article: Leadership Tips for Managing a (New) Remote Team]
2. Provide flexibility with employee schedules and time off.
Even in the best of times, people need a break every once in a while. Thanks to the pandemic, your staff is likely sharing their working space with loved ones, whether that's with a loving partner who may also be working from home or with children who haven't been in school since mid-March. This is a lot to handle and can take an emotional toll on your employees.
One idea that you can use to show your appreciation to employees is to give them some flexibility with their schedules when necessary. Giving them time to step away from work to handle their pressing matters could go a long way in helping them handle the crisis. This may be a tall order for your company, but your team will recognize that and be thankful for the chance to catch their breath.
"A way I show appreciation in these extreme times is to just be there for my employees and be understanding," said Ethan Taub, CEO and founder of Loanry. "I will offer them time away if they need it, or make sure they can reschedule a team meeting if something comes up."
Granting some time off and calling it your Employee Appreciation Day, for example, can also show you care about your employees' well-being. Ryan Roller, founder of Bead the Change, said he has offered a day off from time to time at his company to help his team "feel valued."
"Let your employees know that their hard work has not gone unnoticed in these less-than-ideal circumstances, and that they deserve a break for all they have contributed," he said. "In a time when things can be incredibly stressful for your employees, a day off can give them the space they need to collect themselves and find peace in all this chaos."
While it may be hard to take a potential hit in productivity during a time when revenues may already be down across the board, being more lenient with mental health days can pay dividends to your company's efficiency as well as your workers' stress levels. Fewer stressed employees means better retention rates and employee engagement.
"If someone needs a short break from work or some assistance with a project, or even some support to improve their mental health, provide it for them," said Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful. "Think of it this way: Great businesses and teams get through extreme and uncertain times stronger and more unified, not fractured and disjointed. Accommodating your workers' needs during these times goes a long way in keeping your team happy, cooperative and productive." [Read related article: Remote Work Trends and the Coronavirus: What Changes Are Coming?]
3. Encourage camaraderie and remember to have fun.
If your team already uses video conferencing services for meetings, there's no reason not to use the same technology for office social gatherings. It's important to try to keep the gathering relevant to your company culture if you want to maintain employee engagement.
For instance, you may not be able to have a catered lunch together, but you can hold a daily lunch meeting over the internet. Perhaps you could host an employee appreciation event like trivia night, play a Jackbox game together over the internet, or open a special room in Slack to share the best memes your staff can find on social media. You could also consider scheduling an online meeting to chat over drinks at the end of each week.
"Taking the time to come together and chat about anything unrelated to work can help your team feel connected despite the distance," said Margie Silha, senior director of program management at Motorola. "The hardworking engineers at Motorola have a long-standing happy hour on Thursday afternoons to unwind and connect on things unrelated to work. The team has continued this tradition virtually and requires that everyone turn their camera on for the gathering. This has helped bring a sense of that culture these employees have grown to know and love into their now-virtual work environments."
4. Continue your employee recognition program.
Everyone likes to receive a reward for their great work. Even though you're no longer face to face with your employees, you can still show gratitude and share in their successes.
Heather Rudes, senior director of HR at The Bonadio Group, says employers and supervisors should try to instill some sense of normalcy by keeping employee recognition programs in place. At her company, for example, employees regularly give each other kudos through a peer recognition program.
"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, The Bonadio Group has continued to reward employees via The Promise Connection, a points system where employees earn points for recognizing their colleagues and being recognized," she said.
Another way to show your appreciation is to continue supporting your employees through existing performance review schedules. Letting your employees know where they stand in the company, while also giving them a way to air any concerns they have, could be a huge step in boosting their job satisfaction. If possible, you should continue providing incentives like bonuses for good work.
David Vranicar, managing partner and founder of FBS Fortified & Ballistic Security, said online communications measures like Slack and Zoom should play a role in helping employees recognize each other's good work.
"You [could] have a 'wins' channel in Slack, or simply send teamwide emails showcasing particularly exemplary work and give others the chance to chime in and offer their congratulations and support," he said. "Words of reassurance and encouragement go a long way in boosting employee morale during a time where we're apart from each other and miss the connection."
5. Give your employees a gift or bonus.
Giving your employees a physical token of appreciation may be a little difficult to pull off right now, but it can be a much-appreciated way to express your thanks for your employees' efforts. Gifts and notes of gratitude not only boost employee morale, but can make their lives at home easier as well.
Casey Hill, head of growth at Bonjoro, said his company thanked its employees by giving them some binge-worthy entertainment.
"One thing we did as a company to show appreciation was to provide a paid subscription to any streaming platform of their choice, like Calm, Disney+ or Netflix," he said. "We know these are stressful times, and we want to show our team that we value their mental health and relaxation time outside of work too."
Sean Nguyen, director of InternetAdvisor, urges bosses to offer employees additional compensation for their extra time and work.
"Nothing says 'we appreciate you' like money," he said. "We'd all like to think that a pat on the back and our sincere appreciation suffices, but while it's a nice sentiment, I've always found that I need to put my money where my mouth is. When I appreciate an employee, when their work is exceptional, when they've gone above and beyond – they deserve to be rewarded."
6. Be transparent with your employees about how your business is doing.
If your business has had to scale back or temporarily close during the pandemic, your employees are probably anxious that they may not have jobs to return to once everything reopens. It's important to open up to your employees and let them know the truth of the situation. Keeping your staff in the loop is best practice even when things are normal, and crucial when tensions are high.
It's only natural for a company to shift business strategies, enter different markets or restructure staffing at some point. Making these changes with transparency is a simple yet effective way to prove how much you respect and appreciate your employees.
"Vulnerability is key here," said Joel Patterson, founder of The Vested Group. "Be honest. Your people don't expect you to have all the answers, but they definitely expect you're going to do everything possible to find them."