Staff Morale: Booster Shots of Appreciation Needed During the Pandemic

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Amidst COVID-19 protocols, today’s employees are finding themselves doing work they never signed up for—from enforcing mask wearing and social distancing (and dealing with angry customers who refuse to adhere to those policies) to extensive cleaning/sanitizing. That unexpected and extra work can breed stress and resentment if employees do not feel appreciated.

How is your company showing employees that company leadership recognizes and appreciates the added difficulty of their jobs? Even employees who are able to work from home online may be feeling more burdened than usual. The added convenience of no longer commuting to the office can be offset by the stress of having to share a workspace with family members, and perhaps not having as ergonomically comfortable a workstation at home. posted an article on “How to Avoid Mistreating Employees During COVID-19” that may be helpful. Author Adam Uzialko offers four points of advice for treating employees well during these trying times. For example, he recommends flexible hours to help employees better manage family and personal matters. “Many employees’ lives have been upended since the pandemic began. Some employers, like UCF Restores, implemented a policy of flexible working hours to give employees room to take care of their families or take much-needed time off. ‘Being adaptable and dynamic is the name of the game,’ said Deborah Beidel, founder and executive director of UCF Restores. ‘Employers should evaluate their operations and, to a certain extent, ease their worry about certain rules or practices we would follow under more normal circumstances. For example, we lifted the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. time restriction to allow our team members to work through all the other challenges in their lives.’”

Communicating with furloughed workers also is essential, the article notes. “Chelsea Sullivan, vice president of Cultural Development at Power Home Remodeling, said her company felt obligated to extend support to furloughed employees. ‘During the pandemic, we had to make the difficult decision to furlough 85 percent of our employees, but one we knew was the right decision to make in order to protect and take care of our people. We knew we had to maintain this strong culture we’ve built and continue to show up for employees to support them, keep them engaged, and make them feel connected during an isolating time.’”

Just as the government has offered a stimulus package, companies can consider doing the same. “Carla Yudhishthu, vice president of People Operations at ThinkHR and Mammoth, said extending a small cash bonus to employees as her company shifted operations to a fully remote work model helped ease the transition. ‘In March, we announced a $50,000 companywide stimulus package,’”” Yudhishthu said. “‘We distributed funds to every employee as a cash bonus of $250, and our only ask was to use the cash to cover any incidental costs in the shift to working from home, and then spend the rest of it supporting small businesses in the local community.’”

The added stress of the pandemic may be taking a toll on employees’ physical and financial health, so it’s good to offer whatever protection you can. “‘As a demonstration of their commitment to the employees they serve, our entire senior leadership team unselfishly volunteered a 25 percent pay cut in order to avoid salary reductions or layoffs in their respective departments,’ said Thomas Aronica, founder and CEO of Biller Genie. “‘While many businesses were forced to lay off and furlough their employees, we gave bonuses and added new people to the team. As a result, employee morale, productivity, and creativity at an all-time high.’”

Levity also helps. I spoke recently to the owner of a healthcare practice who said his staff devotes two of its Slackmessaging channels to fun and camaraderie. One channel is used to share funny videos and memes and the other channel is used for “shout-outs” from one employee, or manager, to other employees who have exceeded patients’ or co-workers’ expectations.

This same practice owner noted the importance of direct and frequent communication with employees. Sometimes morale challenges take the form of petty fights between employees. He plans to use the next staff meeting to note the impact the added stress of the pandemic is having on everyone, and the importance of treating one another with respect and consideration.

He says leading by example is also essential to preserving staff morale. How are the leaders of your company treating each other during this time? Are fights and sniping over nonsense becoming more frequent? Are the company’s leaders able to lean on each other to help get through the crisis together? Or has employee-versus-employee competition become more intense?

It’s a rough time for most of us. You don’t have to be involved in grocery store aisle brawls over masks to be feeling the heat. Acknowledge the shared, long-term burden, which so far has come with no end date, and strategize together how you will make it through.

What resources at your company are available to employees during the pandemic, and what new actions have you taken to make a difficult time a little easier?