Three days ago I was having lunch at the top of a mountain at a Colorado ski resort during our family’s spring break, and as we talked to our server about COVID-19 and whether the resort had talked about closing, she said her team had a meeting with her manager that morning and there were discussions that the mountain might close. She was scared to death because she didn’t know how she was going to pay rent if it did close.
Later that morning, I was chatting with a different employee at the same resort, and I asked her about what she had heard about the resort potentially closing. She hadn’t heard anything, and she asked me what I had heard (even though she knew I didn’t work there). I then described my conversation with the server. She was totally surprised and wondered out loud why no one had told her and her team that. She didn’t say it, but you could tell in her voice that she didn’t feel valued. She then talked about how hard that would be on her and her family if that did happen.
The night before last, the resort did close indefinitely.
There’s a ton of uncertainty right now related to COVID-19. But, one thing is for certain. Whether your business has closed or has reduced its hours, your hourly employees are living in a constant state of anxiety. They’re scared for their health because most are still interacting face to face with customers every day who may have the virus, while their salaried counterparts are being required to work from home. They’re scared that if they get sick and have to stay home that they won’t get paid, and thus won’t have money to pay rent/mortgage/bills. They’re scared that the company they work for may have to close all together. And, then what happens?
How you go about showing them how much you care about them during these uncertain times will go a long way towards reducing their anxiety. And, it will go a long way towards impacting their level of engagement and loyalty with your company.
Because at some point, God willing, COVID-19’s impact will lighten, and businesses will return to more normal operations. But, how you’ve handled this situation with your hourly employees will have an impact for some time to come. It will be a reflection of the concern and value you place on them. Handle it well, and loyalty and engagement will likely increase. Handle it poorly, and loyalty goes down, engagement goes down and turnover may increase.
Based on our conversations with leading companies and their hourly employees, here are 5 simple but powerful steps to take right now to reduce your frontline’s anxiety and to ensure they know how much you care about them.
- Over Communicate – As Jack Welch often said, you have to Over Communicate with your employees. An email once every couple of weeks doesn’t cut it right now because things are changing so regularly. You have to communicate with your teams at least a couple of times each week about what’s happening, changes you’re making, decisions you’re faced with, etc. Even if nothing has changed, let them know nothing has changed.
- Communicate from Corporate AND Local Leadership – It’s important that frontline employees hear from their direct local leaders. It’s also important that they are hearing from “corporate” as they know that’s where the ultimate decisions are being issued from. Don’t rely just on the GM’s to communicate announcements and important information. They have to hear directly from “corporate” as well.
- Express Your Gratitude – Tell them you appreciate their continued dedication. They are your employees who are being subject to the most risk by interacting with the public daily. So, let them know specifically how much you appreciate that. And, do it frequently.
- Paid Sick Leave, No Paid Sick Leave; Just Let Them Know & Why – Some companies have the resources to pay their hourly employees for sick leave. And, that’s awesome. And, if there is any way possible that your company can stretch to do that for these people whose livelihoods depend on it, then do it – even if it hurts. But, we also understand that some smaller companies don’t have the resources to do that; or at least not indefinitely. So, let the team know that and why. Don’t let them just come to their own conclusions, which may not be accurate.
- Share Stories of How They Are Making a Positive Difference Right Now – Nearly every news story is negative right now. But, your hourly employees are making a positive difference in people’s lives. Probably more so now than ever. The grocery store clerk who helps an elderly lady find that case of water she couldn’t find. The server whose positivity uplifts the family with 3 kids whose school and sporting events have been cancelled, have been stuck at home for the last week, and are just craving to get out of the house. Those stories are out there. And, they deserve to be celebrated. Give your people a larger mission to keep in mind as they’re serving others during these challenging and stressful times. It shouldn’t just be a “grind your way through it” time.
We know you care about your hourly employees and that you don’t want them to be living in a constant state of anxiety. That’s not good for them and it’s not good for your business. And, in a world right now where it’s increasingly clear that we can’t control EVERYthing, the steps you CAN take now will show your hourly employees how much you care.