The pandemic has certainly changed the face of business – companies shut down, putting people out of work on a temporary or permanent basis, while others arranged for employees to work from home. People have been struggling financially as they sit at home with a lot of free time but no income. Essential workers, who also happen to include most of the lowest paid professions – retail and food service – had to make a choice of keeping their job but risking getting a deadly illness and bringing it home, or giving up their job to protect their health.
Now, after months of lockdown measures, businesses around the world are starting to reopen, trying to figure out how to navigate the new world and recoup their customers when things are so up in the air. Small businesses, in particular, have a tough road ahead of them, since they generally don’t have the financial cushion a conglomerate like Amazon has. In light of that, what I’m about to say may sound insane.
The absolute best thing you can do for your business is go out of your way to take care of your employees.
And yes, this means spending money. For the past several years, there’s been a social movement to support small businesses over faceless corporations, and that movement has had a resurgence with this pandemic – one of the reasons is employees are generally more respected for small businesses. If the general public gets word that your employees love working for you, they will be more inclined to give you their money. If your employees feel respected and appreciated, they will work harder for you.
Right now, take a moment to evaluate what you are and can do for employees. Are they paid fairly, a wage they can live on, even if that’s higher than your local minimum wage? Do you offer health insurance that is affordable and comprehensive? Do employees have paid sick leave?
Paid vacation is another area to look at. Definitely offer a certain amount of paid time off, and encourage people to take it. Business culture in the United States right now encourages employees to either not take their vacation or to feel guilty about taking it, neither of which is good for their mental or physical wellbeing. Instead of allowing your employees to “buy out” their vacation at the end of the year, encourage them to take the time – it will pay off for you in the long run.
Once the basics are addressed, consider added benefits. Maybe you can arrange a tuition reimbursement program for employees studying topics that will help them in their work. Bring lunch in once a week or plan a monthly coworker night out at a local pub – trivia night provides a great bonding experience! Address birthdays or other major life events.
Consider any uniform policy you have. If employees are required to wear certain items while working, the company should provide those items free of charge to ease the financial burden on the employees.
Embrace Employee Appreciation months! Create a clear-cut and quantitative policy to evaluate performances and provide a prize for the highest ranking employee each month. Something like a gift certificate for a massage or an extra day off can go a long way towards an employee feeling appreciated. And to keep things fair, provide additional, optional training for employees in case they want to improve so they can win the following month.
Also, make sure your employees feel comfortable coming to you with issues and suggestions. An environment that feels safe and open is sure to build employee loyalty. Be prepared to work with employees through hardships, because even though work is meant to be a professional environment, it is such a massive part of life, work intersects with their personal life – a schedule change to accommodate childcare is a minor inconvenience to you, but solves a huge hardship for them.
While you prepare to reopen, take into account everything you can do to help your employees – the expense will definitely be worth the reward!