The elastic that anchors a face mask around the ears can get annoying after the mask has been snugly in place for a couple of hours. So an employee slips it off to get more comfortable.
Down the hall, two best friends are so confident that neither of them could be a COVID-19 carrier that they routinely sit a foot apart at lunch, without wearing their masks.
The last thing a small business needs just as it has gotten the green light to reopen is a staff sick with the coronavirus, which can spread like a fire through a workplace, especially if employees aren't adequately protected. And it can shut down the business in an instant.
So how does a business owner get the crew to keep those masks on their faces and stay six feet apart?
You have to sell it.
Convincing your staff can be a tough sell; some might either be pandemic-weary or never believed the health crisis was real, or some employees may feel they are immune. Easier to rein in are those who know someone who got sick or who have taken the warnings of health officials seriously.
As a business owner or manager, it's not only your legal responsibility to ensure that your team is as protected as possible while at your place of business, it's also the smartest business move you can make as your shop finds its footing after these last months of basically being closed.
If you have any doubt that your most important sales job right now is to persuade your employees to follow the rules for protecting themselves and your customers, consider the fact that sick workers at dozens of other businesses have filed personal injury lawsuits against their employers for not stopping the spread of the disease.
Here is how to conduct a campaign to get your employees on board with COVID-19 precautions.
Make it a priority.
You already have plenty to do as you reopen your business, keep up with state and local safety guidelines, fill new orders and backorders for customers, keep your shop sparkling clean, and worry about how to make up for months of little or no revenue while you were temporarily out of business.
If you don't make a specific plan for addressing safety issues with your staff – perhaps because you assume they're already aware that mask-wearing and social distancing are what's required – you, your employees, and your company could suffer greatly from illness and loss of business.
Be deliberate about outlining the rules for employees. That means you need to take the time to decide what is allowed and not allowed, how you will enforce the rules (for both employees and customers), and what the penalty will be for an employee who refuses to wear a mask or stands too close to others.
Decide if there will be any exceptions to your rules. Come up with a policy for addressing customers who do not follow your posted rules.
Finally, calculate what you will need to provide to employees – like masks and hand sanitizer – and give it out so they will have what they need to follow your rules.
Write your plan down. Make it official. Plan how you will let employees know about your policies.
If you want employees to follow your rules, they need to know what they are. The same goes for customers.
Take every opportunity to tell employees about your policy, and then tell them again and again.
Post the policy in staff-only areas like the break room and the restrooms. Post it for customers to see when they enter your place of business or use customer restrooms. If you have a loudspeaker system, announce it every 20 minutes or so to remind both employees and customers about the policy.
Encourage your staff to call each other out for not wearing masks or for getting too close. Authorize employees to refuse to admit or serve any customer who refuses to wear a mask inside your business. Make it OK for employees to ask each other and customers to respect the new rules.
Enforcing a policy means handing out penalties for those who do not comply. If your plan says an employee who refuses to mask up will be sent home, for example, then send that employee home, even if it leaves you short-staffed.
And realize that what the boss does, the employees will do. Make sure all supervisors, managers, and even the owner comply with the rules at all times, not only to set a good example and show employees the rules apply to everyone but also to participate in the team effort to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Talk about it.
Simply posting the rules isn't enough when breaking them can mean the difference between health and illness or even death. Tell every employee what is required and how to meet the requirement.
Set aside some time for staff training. Gather everyone – in shifts at different times, if necessary – for a Zoom meeting, during which a business manager or owner can speak to employees very seriously about the new rules, your expectations and any consequences for falling short.
Don't do the training and leave it at that, however. Remind employees every day when you pass by their stations or meet with them for other reasons.
Explain your reasoning to employees who push back when you reassign them to decidedly unglamorous COVID-19-related duties, like wiping down equipment or monitoring who comes into the business. Ask for ideas from frontline employees who might come up with creative ways to promote safety and health in ways that could benefit the bottom line. Make it clear that managers are open to ideas, will hear complaints and want to know if anyone is sick.
Safety precautions should be part of every conversation every day. That's how to make staying safe an indisputable part of a business's culture.
Just as a penalty can convince an employee not to break a rule twice, a reward can encourage those who are following the rules to keep doing it.
Share good news with the staff about the lack of illness among the staff during weeks when no one is ill. Give employees credit for it. Showcase an employee with a great attitude about following the rules. Have a best-mask contest – with a prize – to foster friendly competition and inject some fun into a deadly serious situation.
Offer some freebies like coffee and snacks to save employees a few bucks and make it less necessary for them to go out during the workday. Slip a gift card good for a cup of fancy coffee to an employee whom a customer singled out in a positive online review.
Wearing masks, speaking up so customers and co-workers can hear over masks and distance, and being vigilant about safety takes a lot of energy – more energy than it used to take to simply be at work. Recognize your employees for their efforts. Show them your gratitude. Say thank you. Don't take it for granted that they're just doing their jobs when, in fact, they're doing more than they used to have to do.
At a time when anxiety is high, when not everyone agrees about what's safe and necessary, and when going to work could mean getting exposed to a deadly virus, it's important for employees to know that their bosses are serious about keeping them and their customers safe.
Your efforts to create a safety policy, to strictly enforce it, and to make it part of the fabric of every employee's workday will go a long way to convincing your employees that it's OK to come to work.
Those same efforts will convince employees that they are an essential part of the success of your business during a time when a single, positive COVID-19 test can send whole teams into quarantine, scare off potential customers and potentially close the business, at least temporarily.
So before you put anyone back to work at your business or onboard anyone new, teach that employee the rules for safety and the truly grave importance of following those rules.