Human Resources Leader, Chief People Officer, Chief of Happiness, VP of Teammate Success, HR Business Partner – the titles vary, but the responsibilities are the same: to hire, train, retain and keep the employees of your company successful and fulfilled through the trials of their day-to-day jobs. Now more than ever, American small business workers are feeling a sense of overwhelm and a significant drop in confidence regarding their job security and [career] path forward. They are juggling multiple responsibilities during what was once a dedicated workday and battling burnout as their home and work lives have collided.


As a company leader, your transparency and honesty throughout this unprecedented time could make or break employee morale and retention in the long-term. And that’s not just an internal issue, as research has shown how you make decisions and treat your employees now will impact customer’s shopping decisions in the future, according to a recent study from GfK. As the line between work and home life continues to blur and uncertainties rise, employees are trusting you to provide sound guidance and counsel, and your customers are paying attention. Let’s dive into some of the things you can do to successfully bring your team through a time of crisis, from supporting and engaging them remotely to maintaining a healthy and safe environment for when it comes time to return.


Keep culture and values at the forefront.

As an HR leader pre-COVID-19, you likely evaluated every plan of action and initiative through the lens of your company’s values. These values are the core of your organization and helped make it the great place to work it is today. You probably spent hours speaking to folks at all levels of the organization who know its mission inside and out to craft these values through a deep dive of where you are and where you want to go. Don’t sideline your values now – when you need them most. If your goal is to come out of this stronger, you need to show employees your values hold true even through the most difficult times. Bring the key elements of your culture and values to the forefront as you navigate a “new normal” together.


Maintain constant communication and schedule weekly check-ins.

One-on-one meetings provide a safe platform for your employees to express concerns they wouldn’t be comfortable asking in another setting. It’s inevitable that staff will have more questions and concerns during this time, so scheduling these check-ins once or even twice a week allows for an open dialogue with no questions left unanswered. Encourage video calls when possible, because like you, your team is likely missing the face-to-face interaction that is so hard to come by during periods of isolation. Encourage the leaders of your organization to share written and video updates on a regular basis to maintain transparency about the state of the business.


Recognize employees for their hard work and commitment.

Recognizing a job well done has always been critical, but now clearly expressing genuine gratitude means more than ever.  Acknowledging what your people have on their proverbial plates at this unprecedented time (work, school, caregiving, general worry, etc.) will show your connection to the realities we are all facing.  Your understanding (and even a little humor) as your people are homeschooling their children, fending off pets, and talking to their spouse / partner, etc. all during a conference call (on mute of course) will go a long way. A simple “thank you” in a Microsoft Teams chat could make all the difference for reenergizing your employee’s morale that week – I’ve become a big fan of the Teams GIFs to spice it up a bit! No act of kindness is too small in these times, and helping folks avoid burnout by reinforcing a job well done makes all the difference in employee retention. Find perks that work for your organization, like encouraging hour-long breaks for walks or telling folks to sign off early on Friday. Each business’ situation is unique, so do what works for you.


Continue to rely on direction from the leading health organizations and comply with all applicable laws.

Following expert guidelines and applicable laws to create healthy and safe workplaces for your employees during a health crisis is the number one thing you can do as a small business to keep your staff feeling protected. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), National Institute of Health (NIH) and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) are all resources you’ll need to act in accordance with, along with all applicable laws including privacy, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Use these resources to provide constant guidance for maintaining healthy operations and work environments. Update all reference documents and have them at the ready so these rules and regulations are easily accessible.


Address employee concerns thoughtfully and on a case-by-case basis.

Recognize that the landscape is constantly evolving and your plans, as well as associated employee concerns, will be too. Listen to each individual concern you receive and be open, honest and flexible with employees given the fluidity of the situation. A well-intentioned organization will be open and transparent about the challenges the business is facing and what they are doing to support. Be as helpful as possible and share resources to ensure all questions are answered.


Don’t rush your return plans.

Patience is a virtue but feels nearly impossible to accomplish in the face of significant economic hardship. If your small business can operate remotely, continue to do so until it is safe while planning the safety measures you’ll implement immediately upon return. You’ll likely need to comply with social distancing, face covering mandates and other local, state and federal regulations while maintaining in-office productivity. Appropriately time your company’s initiatives to align with pertinent expert guidance – rushing back to the office could be a huge detriment to your organization in the long run. Most companies have learned that remote working is a real and productive alternative to being physically in the office. 


Emotional wellbeing matters – a lot.

Everyone deals with challenge and stress differently.  Be patient with yourself and others and remember that we all need to don our own oxygen mask first these days in order to take care of those around us.  If you sense one of your employees is having an off day, be understanding and provide some options.  Taking a break or taking the day to regroup can make a world of difference.  Your ability to listen and be aware of how others are coping is paramount.


Leadership brand & legacy.

I am a true believer in the words we use having deep meaning and impact.  During this unprecedented time, I have never thought about my word choice more.  How we show up as leaders now will indelibly cast our personal leadership brand.  If you have an ego (be honest, you probably do) – it’s time to let it go (cue Frozen soundtrack for inspiration).  This moment is not about “you” it’s about your organization, your team, and your customers.  Your life experiences and stories, however, may be an avenue to connect with your team in ways you never imagined.  Spend some time reflecting about your legacy – how do you want to be remembered someday?  Then set a course for bringing your whole self to bear in living your vision every day.


Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. The amount of emotional support HR professionals are providing during the current pandemic is far greater than anything we’ve seen before (in my lifetime anyway). Take a moment to recognize the effort you’re putting into keeping your team productive and engaged during this period of uncertainty for the world and within your small business.  Encourage yourself to keep going and know your work has never meant more.


You are showing your team how much they matter during a time when they need it most, and that’s the most important part of your job.


Disclaimer – All you HR peeps know we must include this… none of the content above constitutes legal advice.  Please ensure your pandemic plans are validated by legal counsel.