We are living through an unprecedented period. More than any other event in our lifetime, the COVID-19 virus has everyone feeling anxious and uncertain about the future. The closest comparison is the attacks of 9/11 but our nation’s quick response to heightening security at home and abroad gave people the confidence they needed to get back to life as normal.

But this is different. More people lost their jobs in the first two weeks of March than we lost in the entire 2007 to 2009 financial crisis. Meanwhile, economists are forecasting about a 30% drop in GDP within the first year after the onset of this pandemic. In the Great Depression, the GDP also dropped 30% but it took four years of consistent decline to get to that point. In the absence of a vaccine or other proven mitigation measures, it’s hard to imagine being able to “get back to normal” any time soon.

As leaders, it can be overwhelming trying to balance the fear and uncertainty we are feeling with helping our employees feel safe returning to work. We are acutely aware of the economic threats posed by this pandemic, but we also need to be aware of and sensitive to the emotional threats that our employees are experiencing as well. 

They are not used to this “loss of control.”

They are afraid, some of them are terrified.   

They are not used to feeling unsafe to go out in public, including their offices and places of work.

They are not used to the anxiety that exists due to this fear.   

They are not used to anticipating such a large economic impact that can affect their ability to pay their rent or mortgage. 

However, there are things you can do to help them feel safer in their work environment, alleviating some of their fear and uncertainty at least as it applies to their job.

  • Increase the number of touchpoints you have with your employees. In a Zoom-based environment, it’s too easy to let the casual conversations and water-cooler talk fall by the wayside. This is a mistake. Those kinds of conversations are crucial to an employee’s emotional well-being as they provide opportunities for the kind of personal talk that makes them feel valued as a person. 

In addition to your normal business meetings, make sure to call your team for quick one-on-one check-in conversations. In these check-ins, make sure to not just talk business. It’s also important to ask them how they are feeling and if you can help with anything.

Remember, in times like these, it’s impossible to over-communicate. Make weekly communication a priority, whether it’s an all-hand call or weekly email. Re-iterate your mitigation procedures and safety plans regularly, especially when they change. When this crisis is past, your employees will remember your efforts and the fact that you cared enough to make their well-being your priority.  

  • Pay close attention to defining and adhering to a clear and consistent decision-making process. If someone should have been in on a decision or discussion and is not invited to the Zoom call, they will take it as a deliberate decision on your part, rather than a simple mistake. Employees may fill the void with negative thoughts given the negative environment we are in. Thoughts like “I wasn’t invited to the call because my job is on the line” or “I wasn’t invited to the call because I’m no longer a trusted team member” can fester and significantly affect an employee’s outlook and job performance. Having a clearly defined decision-making process that is adhered to at all times can help lessen that hold these thoughts have on employees.
  • Do everything you can to preserve cash. By stopping any and all non-essential expenses and being open about any discussions on how to cut costs will show your employees that you are doing everything you can to preserve their jobs while securing the business’s financial future.
  • Be understanding of your employees’ individual circumstances. Every employee is in a different place emotionally, physically, and financially during this pandemic. It’s important to be understanding of the reality that some feel less secure and more anxious than others. It’s important to focus on the things you can control, which doesn’t extend to your employees’ individual reactions.

As leaders, it is our job to spread hope. There are always opportunities to work side-by-side with your employees to get through this, and any, crisis. The good news is, when a vaccine is found, consumer demand in all sectors will pick up quickly and GDP will grow again. This pandemic is not forever. We can do this…Together.

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