You’ve probably heard a version of the “COVID hero story.” These messages, in advertisements and social media posts, thank essential workers for their bravery and personal sacrifice. As a society in crisis, we’re finally exploring how to better serve huge segments of the American workforce. In the midst of a pandemic, caring for employees is the bottom line.
Many companies are adapting to changing circumstances on the fly. Whether it’s navigating a fully remote workforce or new health and safety standards, companies are thinking about what employees need. The first step in supporting people is thanking them: They are heroes, and we need to say it. But as employers, we can’t stop there.
Essential workers need more than words, they need to feel heard and cared for, and that care needs to be ongoing. The following are ways employers can make sure the word “hero” isn’t hollow through employee listening and how they can carry the learnings this pandemic has spurred into the future.
Show Essential Workers You Care
1. Being a hero isn’t easy — acknowledge the impact
Worrying about virus exposure, risking the well-being of loved ones, losing your job — the stress at work is unsustainable.
A new KFF tracking poll found that 57% of U.S. adults reported feeling worried about risk of exposure to the coronavirus because they couldn’t afford to stay home and miss work (up from 35% in March). Working overtime for hazard pay can be a brutal choice for employees.
That same KFF tracking poll found nearly half of U.S. adults reported their mental health has been negatively impacted due to virus-related stress. Our people need more than words to manage stress at work. They need demonstrations of care from employers.
2. Employee listening will ensure the word ‘hero’ isn’t hollow
Across industries, essential employees are desperate to feel understood, not as heroes but as real people with complicated responsibilities and fears. When we don’t listen and respond, words of gratitude lose their weight — in that imbalance, employee well-being and engagement suffer.
More than ever, showing care means listening. Listen to your people in as many ways as you can.
Ask employees what they need, monitor how that changes over time and analyze the learnings. Show you’re hearing them: Ask for ideas, like process efficiencies or safety improvements, on a regular cadence. And when you can, implement what you hear to improve employee well-being. The world is changing daily — give employees the opportunity to work on the solutions with you.
Listening isn’t only soliciting feedback, though that’s an essential step. Listening can just be acknowledging the collective insecurity and isolation we’re all feeling. Whether it’s encouragement from managers, weekly forums for employee questions or vulnerability from a leader, start unprompted, ongoing conversations that tap into what’s scary right now. Demonstrate honesty in the face of hard truths so people aren’t blindsided in ways that could have been avoided.
3. Thanking essential employees for their heroism is a promise
Using the word is an assurance that essential employees can express concerns even when the headlines subside, and we move to a new version of normal. To maintain employee trust, companies should communicate how protections, support and flexibility will persist into the future.
If listening to employee concerns demonstrates care, communicating a plan for the future is the proof point. Without it, morale will suffer when people and employers need it most.
Nurses, truck drivers, grocery store and factory associates are risking their well-being — it’s up to employers, leaders, managers and coworkers to show them care through their personal crises, emotional and physical. Now and in the future. Let’s return heroic employee efforts with an assurance of care for them through thick and thin. Let’s invest in employee care.
Looking for a comprehensive approach to employee well-being? Learn about the Limeade Well-Being solution to help show employees you care.