Businesses are reopening. Nations and states are loosening travel restrictions. People are making moves toward a “new normal.” And yet, rising case numbers and unemployment applications show that the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects are far from over.
As a business leader, that means you’re still operating under crisis conditions. As with any crisis, employees are seeking more than business acumen from executives; they’re looking for humanity and leadership, and you need to step up and deliver.
“During a disaster, a team will look to its leaders for inspiration, comfort, and direction,” says Sheldon Yellen, CEO of property restoration and disaster recovery company BELFOR. “This is not a time for managers and executives; this is a time for leadership. It’s a time to encourage conversation, openness, and transparency.”
As you consider the future of your business, it’s essential to recognize that it won’t return to “business as usual” anytime soon. You must continue your efforts to support your employees through this crisis and beyond. Here are three areas where you can focus your energy to ensure your employees receive the support they need from the executive level.
- Sacrifice for your team.
You can’t successfully support your workers if they see you as just another executive calling the shots from the safety of a corner office. While this is true of any crisis, it certainly applies to the COVID-19 pandemic — particularly if you’re asking team members to return to in-person work. You need to show them that you’re in the thick of things and willing to make personal sacrifices for their benefit and the benefit of the company.
Sacrifice will, of course, look different for different business leaders. At the highest levels, you may want to take a page from the leaders of Marriott International, NBCUniversal, and Yelp, all of whom have taken pay cuts or given up their salaries for the year. For a smaller business where that kind of cut isn’t possible, consider donating some of your paid time off or providing lunch for employees every once in a while.
- Share mental health resources.
Ensuring your employees have access to mental health benefits and resources is paramount. After all, about one in every six Americans is dealing with some type of mental health concern. When facing any crisis, from a natural disaster to economic turmoil to a global pandemic, you must double down on your efforts to support the mental health needs of your employees. First on the list: Reviewing your health insurance benefits to confirm they apply to mental health treatment, and then reminding employees of how to take advantage of those benefits.
From there, encourage all managers within your company — and if you have direct reports, that includes you — to continue or implement frequent one-on-one meetings with employees to check on their well-being. By keeping the lines of communication open, managers can talk with employees who may need more support in a crisis and provide them with the resources they need.
- Own your response to the crisis.
Finally, one of the main ways you can support your employees is by giving them everything they need to know about your company’s next moves. Make clear and decisive announcements about each phase of your crisis response plan, ensuring any other leaders on your team, like department managers, are on board. Let your workers know exactly how you plan to protect them moving forward.
In times of crisis, there’s no point in trying to cover up the truth. Everyone knows we’re in the thick of a pandemic, so there’s no sense in tiptoeing around the issue. You’ll build far more trust with employees by being realistic about the situation while presenting your company’s response with a confident forward viewpoint.
As the leader of your business, it’s your responsibility to ensure your employees get the support they need during challenging times. By making personal sacrifices to benefit your team, providing employees with ample mental health resources, and taking ownership of your company’s response to the crisis, you can start addressing your employees’ needs as you all work to navigate the future together.
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