How to Bring Back Employees After COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many business owners with the task that seems similar to starting up an engine on a cold winter morning. The engine doesn’t simply spring to life.

Before looking down the road to customers and sales, you’re faced with getting your employees back and ready to work. 

There are changes in how people interact now. There are habits built over the past months that will be tough to overcome. You may be faced with a change in your team.

It’s not quite like starting from scratch, but almost.

Communication and connection with employees.

How you communicate with your employees is the most important thing before you relaunch. It’s not as simple as a quick note on when you’re reopening and who has what shift. 

Create a plan that dictates how, what, and when you will communicate with whom.

  • Who is needed to come in? Is there a staggered timeline?
  • What onboard training is necessary to re-acquaint employees with tasks they may have grown rusty on? With new tasks?
  • What new policies are in place? What changed since your doors were opened last?
  • Is there new safety training, and who needs to participate?
  • What has changed for our customer and how will we communicate that to them?

While you could use email or snail mail, other routes might make communication more successful. When I Work makes communicating with your employee easy with both WorkChat and TeamText.

WorkChat allows for in-app chats among your team and has features that make it customizable and fun for each user. If everyone has the app, this may work great for you. TeamText allows you to send text messages to groups you’ve defined. You can reach managers, employee segments, or your entire team. Perhaps your team is more likely to see and respond to text messages.

Whatever you use, you will need to execute a well-planned communications piece with your employees (and employee segments) to get the engine to turn over and get the wheels moving.

Bringing back furloughed employees.

Furloughed employees agreed to a temporary absence without pay. This meant your employees did you a favor, both financially and in that, you didn’t lose your talent. This is a special circumstance, so you shouldn’t think of it as simply telling them to come back as if the past two months never happened.

Furloughed employees should be sent a letter indicating their return. This letter should contain:

  • An employment offer. The employee may have found other work during the furlough. You are giving them an offer to return. They may reject it.
  • Date of return. Employees need to know when they are to return to work.
  • Terms of employment. Since this is an offer, you need to let employees know their position, responsibilities, supervisor, etc.
  • Changes to policy. Employees should be told what has changed, new safety policies, etc.
  • Benefit changes. Inform employees of any changes to their benefits package.

Most of all, you need to show compassion for your furloughed employees and offer the assurance as well as allow them to make a decision that’s best for them without any guilt.

Create a community for your employees.

You had a community before. You can create it again.

This has been a time of aloneness and isolation for many of your employees. While some have been able to stay connected while working from home, they have missed the interaction they were used to.

  • Make a habit of encouraging. Coming back to work is going to feel strange and employees might feel out of their zone. Creatively encourage their efforts as they adjust to changes.
  • Avoid cutting the “extras.” Finances might be tight at first, but keep the professional development and other extras as much as possible. Coming back after a stressful time to a job in which all of the fun or events employees looked forward to have been moved is disheartening.

Solidarity in purpose and a place of belonging is a much-needed reward during this time.

How to make your employees safe (and feel safe)

Much of the official guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic has been from a health and safety standpoint. You’re aware of social distancing and masks, and your state may have issued specific guidelines for your business as to what is required for both customers and employees.

But there’s another piece beyond actually making employees safe. How do you get your employees to feel safe? Even if you were to create a perfectly sterile environment, all of the disruptions have created inner turmoil and feelings of insecurity and fear.

What do your employees need the most right now?

recent Gallup poll revealed that what employees need the most from you right now is trust, a sense of stability, compassion, and hope.

Trust, according to Gallup, is about being predictable in a time of great unpredictability. Employees are watching you to see if you are honest and if your decisions are proving valid. 

  • Follow your own rules. If they’re a hassle to follow, rethink why you made them. 
  • Be mindful of what you say. Be cautious about speaking negatively against other businesses or leaders who do things differently than you. 
  • Have reasons for policies. Arbitrary rules that don’t seem to have solid reasoning behind them make employees distrust your judgment. Explain policy changes, whether or not they stem from success or failures. 
  • Avoid bizarre behavior and emotional outbursts. Predictable behavior from you, their leader, is necessary. Erratic or fluctuating behavior leads to the second issue: stability.

Stability comes through clear communication of what’s going on, where the team is headed, and what might be expected. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, you like to know that the pilot has the runway in sight. 

  • Regular communication. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. The fact that it is regular provides a pattern of stability. Regular and accurate information also dispels rumor and speculation, which only increase instability and fear.
  • Necessary tools. Have the tools and equipment (whether tangible or in the form of a listening ear) your employees need to do their job safely. Make them readily available. 

All of this is done in compassion because you care about your employees. Compassion allows for different levels of fear and responses to the chaos and shift, and takes seriously the real lives of real people. 

  • Show compassion instead of giving it lip service. Action is better than words.
  • Regularly check-in with each employee, giving them a chance to privately express what they might be struggling with as they return to work.
  • Meet actual needs. What struggles are your employees going through? How can you meet the financial and psychological fears eating at them? 

Compassion reassures employees they aren’t disposable, they matter, and that they can come to you with concerns without fear of a negative outcome.

And finally, people who experience true compassion have a sense of hope. Hope is about looking at a situation in a different way. 

  • Help employees shift their perception of a situation without being manipulative. How can you help your employees shift their focus from the fearful and negative, and gain a sense that there is a tomorrow, and it can be a good one? Perhaps you’ll change the stations on your restaurant televisions from the news to something more uplifting.
  • Update them as things improve in your business. Reveal the reasons to be hopeful.

Make self-care important for yourself.

You don’t know the future. 

You have your own fears and worries to deal with. Small business owners have taken a triple hit, fearing for their businesses, their finances, and their employees.

But as a leader, your responsibility to your employees is to not feed those same things in them. You need to take care of your own emotional, mental, and physical health. 

If you are struggling in any of these areas, it will leak through and show despite your best efforts. Use anxiety-reducing or mindfulness techniques. Talk to a counselor, and use available services for mental or spiritual help.

A reboot is never easy, but with the awareness of the importance of whole health and the right focus for you and your team, you can get your business rolling again.

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