It’s now been nearly six months since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the United States.
In that time, your employees have dealt with lockdowns, school closings, canceled events, and changes in work routines. Adding to the stress is the anxiety that comes with economic hardship and an extremely contagious and often misunderstood virus.
As a leader or manager in your workplace, you may have experienced drops in morale and productivity as your employees crave some sense of normalcy. Adding to your stress as a leader is the need to ensure that work continues in some fashion. Pandemic or not, your company still has customers to serve, a mission to fulfill, and money to be made.
You can accomplish these goals with greater success if you attend to the unprecedented needs of your workforce. These four tips for taking your employees in uncertain times can help.
Revise your expectations
With the fears, disruptions, and distractions brought about by COVID-19, it’s unlikely employees can accomplish what they did pre-pandemic. You can relieve their stress by recalibrating expectations.
That’s not to suggest you have to let workers completely disengage. But at the very least, don’t hold employees to the goals set at the beginning of the year before the pandemic. Instead, work with them to set revised goals that take the current landscape into consideration.
Adaptability is key to being a successful leader, no matter what role or industry you work in. Take this opportunity to demonstrate flexibility with your team and lead by example.
Prioritize employee engagement
The most important thing you can do for employees is to maintain regular contact. Leaders who disappear for long stretches can make employees nervous and cause them to think the worst. Some employees also need consistent engagement to stay motivated. Regular contact communicates that you care about employee concerns and are available to answer questions.
If your team is working remotely, try to designate one contact with a direct report each day, whether by video call, phone, text, or instant messaging. If employees are still coming to the workplace, have socially-distanced sit-down meetings to maintain a sense of normalcy.
It’s also important to foster connections between each of your specific departments. If and when workers are back in the office, you still need to encourage social distancing. Set up spots in your breakrooms, cafeterias, and common spaces where chairs are set far enough apart to minimize infection, but close enough that co-workers can socialize about their weekend plans.
Emphasize health and wellness benefits
While you’re engaging with employees, remind and encourage them to take advantage of company benefits that can help them through the pandemic.
Make sure employees use their paid time off to step away from the virtual office for a day or week to recharge. Similarly, promote your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as many workers may feel loneliness, depression, anxiety, or burnout during this time.
Some employees may worry about missing work due to COVID-19. If you offer group disability insurance, remind employees of this benefit. It can help them replace some of the income they lose if they can’t work due to illness. This can include COVID-19 and a number of other ailments.
If you don’t offer these and other wellness benefits, now may be a good time to upgrade your employee benefits package to help support your workforce. And if you can’t afford to offer the benefits you would like to, take this opportunity to educate your employees on what they can do on their own outside of work.
For example, consider long term disability insurance. Whether you offer group coverage or not, your employees should understand the value of owning a personal policy. Getting covered is a simple, affordable way your employees can protect their income and improve their financial security. It can be done online from the comfort of their couch.
Don’t forget to have some fun
Your employees need to smile. Find creative ways to get co-workers interacting with each other that don’t necessarily involve work.
Conduct a survey to figure out the best and worst parts of working from home or the most binge-worthy shows to stream right now. Or ask employees to share photos or videos of their at-home workspaces, work-from-home attire, their pets, or their favorite quarantine activity. You can even have a contest and have workers vote on the submissions.
Encourage your team to practice moderation in consuming social media and news coverage. While staying up-to-date with the latest pandemic news is of the utmost importance, information overload can cause unnecessary stress. Have a forum where co-workers can share books, TV shows, and movies they are currently into and that can help them unwind.
Schedule a recurring weekly video meeting with your team and talk about anything except work. Treat it like you would a team lunch or happy hour gathering. This will give them something to look forward to each week.
Some employees may be able to carry on as normal during these uncertain times. Many others won’t.
To help all your workers through this period, acknowledge that everybody has their own unique circumstances, provide as much normalcy as possible, and create positive diversions to make work enjoyable.
At the end of the day, it’s the thought that counts.