A Letter to Employers Everywhere

Your business can get through the COVID crisis with kindness


  • Workplace
April 09, 2020 Zoe Brownlie

Yes, I know lots of businesses can't afford to run anymore and are shutting down. I understand this must be extremely stressful for business owners and senior leadership teams, and the urge must be to push push push your people so you can do all you can to stay afloat. But I'd like you to step back and look at it a different way. Pushing people too much does not increase productivity. And if your business does survive COVID-19 (and I really hope it does), you want your people to feel well, positive about your organisation, and have a sense of belonging during and when we come out the other side of this. This is what will help your business to succeed, plus you'll feel good about being a good human.

A lot of us have not lived through a crisis before, especially one that impacts the whole world. So just this fact is a heavy load for many to be dealing with. Then on top of that, we are in a situation where we are having less social contact, except with those in our bubble, which are intense and pretty much 24/7. We are anxious about ourselves or loved ones getting sick and feel overwhelmed by having no control over the situations that many others are in.

So here are five things I urge you to do to as an employer, for your people, for your business, and for our society.

1. Don't expect people to be as productive as before. Their mental wellbeing is not likely to be as good as it usually is, which impacts productivity. They might be caring for children or others, which means they are now doing two jobs in the same amount of time. They might not have space or equipment in their home to be able to work. The help they used to get to run their household won't be available. Knowing all this and expecting the same output will not end well.

2. Check-in with your people more regularly. Mental wellbeing decreases during uncertainty and change, and you still have a duty of care. Normalise talking about wellbeing, implement a buddy system, and chat. And then chat some more.

3. Use this opportunity to help fathers spend more time with their children. This may sound random, but research shows that fathers want to spend more time with their children and that this has huge benefits for everyone. These include improved child development, healthier relationships, gender equality, and even a reduction in domestic violence. So if an employee is also a father then expect that they will now be doing two jobs, and help them to do this.

4. Add in extra support around domestic violence. We have very high rates in NZ, and unfortunately, many people go to work or to others' houses to escape. They now don't have that option. Domestic violence takes many forms and is often happening where you wouldn't expect it. Offer support to everyone, know where people can get help, and leave any judgments you have at the door (or away from your laptop or phone, as the case may be).

5. Don't make people redundant. Discuss role changes, reduction in hours (although be careful you don't expect them to deliver the same amount), or development through study, but if you can hold onto your people, it'll be worth it in the long run, both for you and the economy. I know some just can't, but creating job losses should be the absolute last resort.

And, most importantly, realise that we're all vulnerable, we are all trying to figure this out in the best way we can, and we are all human.


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