It’s been an unprecedented year to date, to state the obvious. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything close to this year as a CEO, from both a professional and personal standpoint. The pandemic has completely changed our daily lives, including how we work every day and how everyone is thinking about the upcoming holidays.
We’ve all heard the all-too-known phrases by now and I’ll be the first to say that I hope to not have to utter the phrase “uncertain times” again in a long time after we’ve gotten past this pandemic. Until then, we’re all taking it week by week, figuring out how to lead during, well, uncertain times. As the holidays approach and we have a moment to catch our collective breaths, I’ve found myself particularly reflective this year, taking stock of how our business has operated, almost completely remotely, for the majority of this year and what that means to all of us. It’s made me think of just how grateful I am, and how much more the holidays will mean this year to families and friends around the world.
Do We Gather Virtually?
I don’t know about you, but a virtual holiday-themed Escape Room activity doesn’t exactly sound fun. It could be fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my first choice and likely wouldn’t be my eleventh choice. While I personally enjoy spending time with members of my team, it’s time for us as leaders to consider that the holiday party as we’ve known it could be finished - and maybe for good reason. Even in a time when we can safely gather and mingle, holiday parties are a decent-sized line item of any company budget, and while many may enjoy the festive, complimentary food and drink, some might find them forced or awkward. We’re taking the time to recalibrate how we can best show our employees that we appreciate them and that they are important and special to our success each day. For some, a fun party with an open bar or dessert buffet might communicate that - but for most employees, that budget would impact their daily lives in a more visibly positive way through targeted employee benefits to support them. When your employees are working from home, they aren’t drinking your complimentary coffee or enjoying surprise bagels on Friday morning, or getting inspired by your collaboration spaces. They’re at home, trying to work in whatever corner of their apartment or home they could carve out, while juggling childcare, homeschooling, senior care, and all the other household responsibilities that are piling up even more now.
In the meantime, as we reevaluate our budgets, we’re going super simple and sincere. We’re going to tell our employees that they matter, because for so many of us simply hearing it goes a long way. Especially now, when we are constrained by the new norms of video conferences and virtual meetings all day long, a genuine thank you - either through a phone call, hand-written note, or thoughtful email, will show your employees that it wouldn’t be the same company without their contributions. And if your budget has the room to reward bonuses or raises? Even better.
And if a virtual Escape Room holiday party sounds like a great company holiday party, then book it! It will be safer and cheaper than the alternative from previous years.
Kick off the Year with Optimism
Once the halo of the holidays is behind us, the real work for all of us begins as we look to 2021. As I consider how we can best achieve our business goals, I also consider how we can best set up our employees to achieve these goals. How can we as organizational leaders start the new year with optimism despite this persistent uncertainty? For me, it really comes down to one thing - support. According to a recent SHRM survey 35% of employees expressed experiencing depression often as a result of the pandemic. Support for these struggling employees is the best boost, the strongest foundation, and the greatest gift. It communicates that an employee is valued. It confirms that an employee’s welfare matters and that you know that in order for any employee to do their best work, they need and deserve to be supported. We should use this opportunity, all this uncertainty we’ve been swimming in, to redefine what support means in an organization. Is it continued learning? Hands-on management style? Flexible work hours? As employers, we’re getting better at being flexible and recognizing that unique times demand and require unique solutions to help employees do their best work each day in less than ideal circumstances. But we need to do even better, take it one step further and invest in benefits that help make their daily lives feasible and better - childcare support benefits, elder care support benefits, and mental health.
Giving Kudos Even in Tough Times
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected industries, with certain industries experiencing the fastest growth on record, while other industries are severely impacted and still dealing with the debilitating aftermath of layoffs. While the obvious preferred choice would be to work at a company that has accelerated growth during the pandemic, say a video conference or telehealth company, there are unique challenges in the situation. How can a company appropriately celebrate growth and professional wins, while large swaths of the rest of the country and world are experiencing tremendous economic turmoil? The simple answer here is that you celebrate the wins. How you celebrate might look a little different, but make no mistake that it’s still really important to celebrate successes. Teams need to know that we notice and appreciate the fruit of their labor and that we understand that they are making it work despite difficult conditions - especially if you had to part ways with parts of your team as part of difficult layoffs. And who knows, maybe giving kudos in the form of meaningful, supportive, benefits will outlast the pandemic and change the way we think about letting our employees know they matter to us.