Ten months ago, no one thought we would still be in the midst of a pandemic and trying to persuade our employees to wear masks and wash their hands until they resemble crocodile skin. Yet, here we are, and we must lead our employees out of the COVID funk that has settled on the world. “How,” you ask?
Connect with them. Start with empathy instead of impatience. Let them hear from you – that you are also weary of everything that comes along with COVID, you are also frustrated, you also want life to go back to “normal,” you would also like to have skin on your hands, you also want to see their entire faces and warm smiles. Then explain why you are committed to wearing a mask, to appropriately physically distancing from others, to cleaning the workspace, to washing your hands. You are committed because it protects them and their families. You know that they also want to protect their co-workers and their families.
Speaking of connection, if your employees are working remotely and feel disconnected, brainstorm fun ways to connect. Bonus points if the fun helps you get to know more about each other. Keep it work appropriate though. For example, I do not recommend “Pajama Mondays.” To the contrary, this is an opportunity for people to put on their outside clothes for once. You can also let employees know when you are hosting a Zoom meeting where it is okay for kids and pets to pop up. You could challenge employees to come up with their own connection ideas and choose a winning idea monthly. Here are some fun connection ideas our creative Firm Administrator, Michelle Holmes, implemented:
🤡 Each employee submitted a photograph of their pet, Michelle created and distributed a pdf of the pets, and each employee had to match the pet with the appropriate owner/servant of that pet. The winner won a gift card to a pet store.
🤡 Before a scheduled firm Zoom meeting, Michelle mailed out colored glasses. The reason for the glasses was a mystery to us, but we were instructed to wear them for the meeting. At the meeting we learned we were wearing them in support of a client’s charitable cause. After learning about that cause, we took a screenshot of the Zoom video and forwarded it to our client to show our support.
Next, highlight any positive changes you have made because of COVID. The most obvious example is if you realized employees could work remotely and still effectively perform their jobs. If you plan to continue allowing some level of remote work post-COVID, you might let your employees know of that decision. If you are one of the businesses though that needs your employees at the physical work site, finding positives might be more difficult. Maybe you improved your technology this year, which makes employees’ work easier, or you might have improved the office ventilation. Everyone loves breathing cleaner air. Perhaps your employees were pushed into being more patient or thoughtful, and now have a stronger team. Perhaps you have more flexible work hours that employees enjoy and can become a permanent option. Whatever are the successes, celebrate them.
What if your employees argue their freedom comes first and, anyway, COVID is not real, or at least not serious? First, do not argue with them. In fact, maybe you personally agree with them, but you have regulations and protocols to enforce. It is best to refrain from engaging in conversation about these beliefs at work. Whether the opinions are born from political or religious beliefs, you are about to get into a conversation that makes lawyers squirm. If you want to save your money, do not have these conversations. Just acknowledge that your employee has the freedom to his own opinions about COVID (mind your tone here if you do not agree with him) and ask him if he is willing to put those aside to help you create a harmonious workplace. Do not use the word safe because he thinks it is already safe. If you have a good working relationship, he will want to help you. If he refuses to comply with the protocols, then you need to call the GaffneyLewis employment law team to assist you.
Be on the lookout for our next blog post on COVID vaccinations coming out soon.
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