Your employees are undoubtedly your business’s most valuable asset. For instance:
- Think about the value your top salesperson brings to the organization.
- Or how often your patients request seeing your longest-tenured hygienist or nurse.
- How about your research and development manager, who consistently brings innovation to your product lines.
These are the individuals who need your leadership now more than ever.
“This is a difficult time for business owners, partly because they need to be caring for and connecting with their families and their employees,” said Lise Stewart, principal-in-charge of the Center for Family Business Excellence at EisnerAmper. “It’s a heavy burden to bear.”
It goes without saying that the health and safety of your employees are paramount right now. But, caring for your employees during this crisis goes beyond working from home and social distancing. They have seen their hours cut or eliminated. They are struggling with a reduction in their incomes. They are wondering if your business can survive and provide employment for them ever again.
Here are some tips to help your employees during this unprecedented time of stress and uncertainty.
Your employees are looking to you for vision and guidance right now. Share your ideas with your team members, letting them know that rather than running scared, you are looking at what can be done to keep the business on track.
“Don’t sugar-coat the message and try to deny that people are frightened or worried,” said Stewart in an interview. “If you try to manipulate information or tell half-truths, people can generally tell, and it will diminish the trust that you have worked to build over the years.”
“Instead, validate their experience and perhaps share some of your own emotions. Admitting your own concerns and vulnerabilities builds trust and draws people closer.”
To also bring people together, encourage your employees to share their ideas. Innovation comes from those who are on the front lines of your business day in and day out. They are used to solving problems and looking at things differently; it’s what makes them so valuable.
Choose your words wisely
Your employees aren’t experts in human resource matters. The manner and context in which you position your decisions can be the difference between putting people at ease or creating a mass panic. Be sure you take the time to explain what your employment decisions mean for both today and the future.
“I know a lot of owners are cutting headcount right now, but they may be better off referring to them as temporary layoffs instead of a permanent firing,” said John Warrillow, author of Built To Sell. “I think some owners confuse eliminating jobs and laying people off. Oftentimes, we use the term layoff as a synonym for eliminating a position or firing someone for poor performance because it sounds nicer, but they are actually different things.”
“A temporary layoff is an acknowledgment of a business interruption of sorts and you fully expect to hire the employee back when conditions improve.”
Payroll is often your business’s largest expense and can drain cash flow quickly, especially when there’s little to no revenue coming into the business. But what may seem like a simple equation of reducing headcount to improve cash flow may not make the most strategic sense for the business long-term.
“We have no plans to furlough or terminate our employees, as I think it’s in the mutual interest of the company and employees to be retained,” said Bryan Hoffman, founder and chief executive officer of Boston Microscopes. “Our engineer must be retained otherwise it will take us an extended period of time to make up that lost knowledge; our salesperson is trained in our company's nuances and still performing, even if at a lower level. For our company, an alternative action would be penny wise and pound foolish.”
In addition, access to capital through the CARES Act requires businesses to maintain their headcount in order for the loans to be forgiven. This is in an effort to not only help owners infuse cash into the business, but also to encourage them to make the sound decision of keeping their most valuable people on the payroll.
Share the facts
What works best for your business under these conditions is a decision only you as the owner can make. If you deem temporary layoffs a necessary course of action, the CARES Act will make eligible far more workers than usual for unemployment benefits, including those who are self-employed, independent contractors, and gig economy workers. Under the plan, eligible workers would also get an extra $600 per week until July 31, 2020, on top of what their state benefit provides. Be sure to make your employees aware of the assistance that may be available during this unprecedented time.
“Eliminating a job is a permanent dismissal which you may end up regretting if the economy roars back after the shock of COVID-19,” said Warrillow. “As with any HR related matter, it’s always best to check with an HR lawyer before doing anything that impacts your people.”