Businesses have been unusually tested in 2020. A Local Economic Impact Report released by Yelp in September shows that 60% of businesses that closed down due to the pandemic have permanently shut their doors. Bankruptcies at global small and medium-sized enterprises nearly doubled from 9.4% prior to the pandemic to 18.2%, according to a working paper published by the International Monetary Fund. Leaders have had to find ways to motivate their workers while around them, friends, family and peers were losing jobs, getting sick or, in the worst cases, dying.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the only thing workers were dealing with this year. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor kicked off widespread protests in cities around the country. A divisive and long-drawn-out election cycle left some people worried about the very foundations of our country.
These stressors have a real impact on workers’ health and, ultimately, their productivity and effectiveness.
Employers aren’t powerless against these factors. Workers’ belief that their boss is concerned about their well-being builds trust, which results in more productive teams. It’s imperative for employers, especially now, to proactively support worker well-being with comprehensive benefit programs and empathetic management.
Building strong teams to withstand challenges
Cohesive teams can weather any disaster, whether it’s the black swan variety, like the pandemic, or a more everyday crisis. A paper published in the Academy of Management Review found there are four emotional or mental resources that employers need to nurture in order to build resilient teams that can proactively meet these challenges.
Most importantly, team members have to believe they can effectively address the problems they face. They have to understand their role on the team and their peers’, and be able to improvise as changing conditions require them to look at problems in a new light. Finally, feeling they can safely speak their minds and share ideas allows team members to fully engage with each other to find solutions.
Encouraging virtual cohesion
Of course, one of the unique challenges that businesses faced in 2020 was transitioning most, if not all, of their workers to a remote work arrangement. With more than half of remote workers saying they want to continue working from home after the pandemic, and a third saying they’d like to work remotely at least some of the time, employers will be managing remote offices for some time to come. That means business leaders need to do more to establish trust than they would under normal circumstances, according to a paper in Organizational Dynamics.
Designing empathetic benefits programs
More than 90% of employees, HR professionals and CEOs say empathy is an important business value, according to Businessolver’s 2020 State of Workplace Empathy report. Employees are making job decisions based on how empathetic employers are: 80% said they would switch jobs for a more empathetic boss.
Employers can show their workers that they care about their well-being by offering benefits that help them address their biggest concerns. That starts with understanding employees’ worries and fears. Nine out of 10 employees said generous PTO policies help retain workers and improve productivity. Meanwhile, a 2020 Fractl survey found better health, dental and vision benefits were the most important to employees, followed by flexible work hours and more vacation time.
The challenges that employers faced in 2020 won’t disappear with a new calendar. How long the ongoing effects of the pandemic will last is uncertain, and businesses and employees need support through this transitional time. The good news is that the lessons learned this year can set businesses up for success, no matter what comes their way.