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A Year of Lockdown: How to Help Your Employees Stay Sane

For most of us, life changed dramatically nearly one year ago, in March 2020. As the one-year anniversary of the life-changing pandemic nears, you may find you or someone you know hitting a wall. These are challenging times that require extra grace, kindness, and compassion. As a business owner, supervisor, or manager, riding the waves of the pandemic storm also includes maintaining employee engagement. Here’s how you can help your staff stay sane as the pandemic rages on.

1. Commit to an Environment of Open Communication

Your employees may or may not want to talk about their struggles, and although this will vary by individual, fostering an environment of communication is even more critical. The start of the pandemic offered a wide variety of tools and coping mechanisms. However, a year later, fewer of those helpful tools exist. If your employees were new to working from home last year, they may find long-term remote work pretty isolating. Changing from partial remote work to full-time remote work can be jarring for employees of all levels and skills, and the duration has likely been unexpected. 

Being away from your staff can certainly alter your communication with them. Take a moment and reflect on how you’ve communicated with your workers within this last year. Do you find yourself checking in with your staff less often? Are you complacent in managing due to a lack of physical presence? Your staff needs encouragement, praise, and direction even if you are not in front of them to tell them so.

2. Understand the Inequity of Burdens

Not all of your staff have the same family and home lives, and you should be mindful of other obligations that may make your employees additionally stressed. The burden of care-giving, childcare, and childhood education tasks has predominantly fallen upon women, many of whom are employed.  Many schools are still in distance-learning or hybrid-learning models and working parents are left juggling how to accommodate their jobs and their kids’ education. If your employees have other obligations other than their employment with you, keep these in mind. Not all of your employees are created equal, and none of them have equal circumstances, either. Your employees may need to take multiple breaks or may need to shift their schedules to accommodate their additional obligations. Ensure that you take your time to speak with these employees and see if you can work something out with them so they feel supported and encouraged at your workplace.

3. Maintain Ongoing Flexibility

Whether or not your employees have other obligations throughout the day, they may find the need to take a screen break from remote work. Allowing employees to take breaks throughout the day or letting them split their shifts to take care of their personal matters improves their motivation and productivity. Regardless, maintaining flexibility—within reason—during the workday is paramount to your employees’ mental health. You’d likely allow “water cooler” banter, coffee breaks, other paid breaks, and camaraderie in your “normal” office setting. There’s no reason to discontinue this for more stringent and strict demands now that they’re working from home.

4. Zoom and Respecting Privacy

Zoom and other screen-sharing and video conferencing tools may be the only ways you see your staff, but it is important to keep in mind both etiquette and understanding. Generally, users should be able to opt-out of video conferencing on occasion. Be mindful that the capacity to see inside an employee’s private life—their home—via video conferencing can be anxiety-inducing for some. Also, the constant need to heighten your expression to combat the lack of non-verbal communication can be draining.  Video-conferencing is an invaluable tool to connect, but it can also be a source of burnout. Consider other options for connecting, when applicable.

5. Financial and Other Ways to Help

Your business may have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, and if that is the case, you may feel that you cannot offer ways to help your employees. However, there are many ways to support your staff that cost little or nothing. 

Offer Flex Time:
Offer Additional Time Off In Lieu of Bonuses: 

Supplementing your staff with additional paid time off doesn’t impact your bottom line the way that raises and bonuses do. If you cannot afford monetary increases, consider offering additional time off. 

Modify Time Off Caps:

If your company has a cap on time off balances, consider a one-time adjustment since travel was restricted in many places last year.

Consider Thoughtful Gift Giving:

Even a small, but meaningful gift shows your staff that you are cognizant of challenging times. The key here is that the gift must be thoughtful. Giving a coffee gift card to someone who hates or cannot consume caffeine is not as thoughtful as something else you could provide.

Increase “Workplace” Perks:

If you can afford to allow contribute in some manner to your staff, consider increasing perks that your employees would otherwise enjoy at the office, but apply those to your remote workforce. If you previously supplied coffee, snacks, or paid/catered lunches, seek ways to implement these remotely.

Of course, there are financial ways to help your staff, too. If you received a PPP loan, you may even be able to give bonuses and/or raises! Regardless of how the pandemic financially impacted your business or not, stay mindful that your staff’s hard work has kept the company going and growing.

Although you’ve probably heard and read the phrase “challenging times,” more times than you can count over the last year, the message remains true. Employees are still adjusting to ongoing changes, and you can and should help them adjust—and stay sane.


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