The COVID-19 epidemic continues to ravage economies around world. In the wake of the epidemic, small and medium businesses have been hit hard, with many forced to scale down operations, restructure their business models, or even cease operations altogether – even with help from their respective governments.
For the average small company, the ability to weather the current epidemic lies in its resilience and capacity to adapt – impossible feats without contribution from its workforce.
Employees play many crucial roles within a successful business. They embody the culture of the organization, influence customer relationships, and are critical in the overall success of your business. And because of the central role they play within an organization, they are often the most affected during difficult times like the current COVID-19 epidemic. In addition to the mental stress associated with isolation, employees working remotely have to deal with the physical challenges of working from bedrooms, kitchen tables, and other unorthodox workspaces while dealing with home-schooling and other childcare-related responsibilities.
So, while a crisis can be tough on every facet of your business, ensuring the physical and mental well-being of your employees is critical for the survival of your business. The current crisis offers businesses a good opportunity to boost employee engagement and commitment while deepening trust. As a plus, any goodwill you gain from employees during this period can be carried over to the post-crisis period, making your business more competitive than it was before the crisis.
Here are a few tips to help you safeguard your employees' well-being while sowing those seeds of goodwill.
Times of crisis often bring about tons of uncertainty for employees. Most will be anxious about the future of the company, their jobs and personal issues, like the health of their families and colleagues. As a leader, it is imperative that you practice clear, honest and regular communication to help provide reassurance and alleviate some of the anxiety and uncertainty among your employees.
Ensure employees understand elements of the company that are changing, why said changes are necessary and how the changes will affect individual employees. Communication must be unambiguous and thoroughly thought through; you need to be as transparent as possible with information, even if the information isn't positive. By avoiding misinformation and half-truths, you'll help build up and maintain trust and morale within your workforce long after the crisis is over.
It's also important to instill elements of logic and empathy within the content of your communication. This will help your employees process information with measured emotional responses and create a psychological safety net for those that will have to deal with any negative news.
Above all, be available for questions and queries from your employees. Create an environment where your staff can communicate freely, allowing for candid discussions about challenges and strengths that will help push the organization forward.
Empower employees with the right tools.
Working remotely isn't a new concept. According to data from Gallup, about 43% of employees had been working remotely in some capacity before the epidemic. However, working away from the office presents its set of challenges, especially for those employees who find themselves thrust into this new work environment during the current crisis.
One survey, for instance, found that among 70% of respondents that currently use video conferencing software, about 65% were using the software more often after the outbreak, with many of them using such software for the first time. And for many of these employees, this new work environment comes with a baggage of potential stressors, including inaccessibility of office equipment, failing software and hardware, unreliable internet access and other tech-related issues.
To that end, businesses must make the right investments in technology to make it easier for employees to stay productive while working remotely. The best technology should always have elements of flexibility, mobility, inclusivity and collaboration. As such, make sure every piece of tech they use accommodates varied work requirements and isn't restricted to physical spaces – this can go a long way in helping to boost productivity.
Plus, don't sacrifice long-term employee productivity for short-term cost savings when bringing in tech for your employees. Whenever you can, always go for hardware and software vendors that show strong support while complementing your efforts to improve the employee experience.
Promote access to mental health resources.
Mental health in the workforce has been a topic of discussion for businesses long before the COVID-19 outbreak. Last year, close to 60% of employees in the U.S experienced some form of mental health symptom, with only 2 in 10 workers seeking help for their symptoms. And with social distancing, stressful remote working environments, and the ever-present risk of contracting the new coronavirus, the current outbreak will have adverse effects on employee performance for businesses that sideline the mental health of their employees.
Employees working from home for significant portions of a workweek are especially vulnerable to destructive behaviors, including excessive drinking, gambling, and binge eating, which, according to this analysis, could lead to mental health problems that arise from addiction. As such, it is important for businesses to provide support and resources to help employees cope, even when they're not physically in the office.
There are tons of ways your business could help employees cope with the mental stress that comes with this crisis, whether they're working from home or physically in the office. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the American Psychiatric Association and Mental Health America offer an assortment of resources that employees can access with your help.
This is also the best time to utilize employee assistance programs that may be at your disposal, courtesy of your health insurance provider. EAPs, though traditionally underutilized, are usually very effective at helping employees cope with many personal and work-related issues, including financial problems, stress, substance abuse, and traumatic events – all of which could arise as a result of the coronavirus.
Become a transformational leader.
In many ways, crises like the COVID-19 epidemic offer leaders good opportunities to hone their leadership styles and come into their own. Transformational leadership, one of those leadership styles, has been shown to be particularly effective at enhancing employee well-being during times of crisis. One study in Germany found that employees who perceived high levels of transformational leadership from their employers were more likely to experience well-being at work, which greatly improves performance during times of crisis.
Transformational leadership encompasses various traits of forward-thinking leaders. Transformational leaders are personally involved in the well-being of their employees, are always working to convey trust, and impart a sense of meaningfulness for employees, ultimately resulting in employee development. They also lead by example, are quick to give positive feedback when due, and go out of their way to make employees feel like they are working towards the same goals and objectives.
Transformational leaders also provide intellectual stimulation for their employees, which can go a long way in changing negative mindsets during the current crisis. Because of the extra time that comes with working from home, the remote working environment is a perfect breeding ground for negative behaviors, which could give rise to negative self-amplifying feedback loops, stagnated personal growth and poor outcomes for individuals.
Offer training and relevant resources to managers.
It is also important to ensure you and your managers are reading from the same script when it comes to employee well-being. One of the best ways to guarantee this connection is by providing opportunities for training to middle and top-level managers with the intention of making these managers more attuned to the physical and mental well-being of subordinate staff.
Everyone with a leadership role within your business must understand that each employee is different with regard to how they feel, think and react to different situations. While some may be quite resilient and require little or no support at all, others may be extremely needy and may require significant support during the crisis. As such, managers must be able to identify these unique elements among different employees and come up with strategies for handling individual employees.
Traditionally, employers would have been able to organize workshops, seminars and onsite training for managers. But with social distancing and active lockdowns across states, online training programs and remote consultants are among the few effective ways to get the necessary training for managers.
Remote training also helps businesses cut training costs during difficult times. According to an analysis by Consulting Centrale, for instance, small businesses can save thousands of dollars annually in training and consulting costs via smart and AI-powered consulting without significant effects on the quality of services provided. These cost savings can be quite beneficial for businesses that are looking to empower managers without significantly affecting their bottom lines.
Finally, remember that the ability to weather the current crisis lies in your ability to keep your employees interested, happy and fully engaged as the crisis rages on. Employees with significant dysfunction to their well-being will deal significant blows to your company culture, customer service, product quality and other important facets of your business.