It’s a rocky time to be in business. While we’ve been experiencing some growth and stability in recent years, the coming of COVID-19 has caught everyone off-guard—and not everyone was prepared for such an impactful event. After all, how could we have been? This year has been truly extraordinary so far, and sadly for all the wrong reasons.
Small/medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the economy, providing 60% of the UK’s total employment in 2019. For the most part, SMEs are fairly resilient—and can rely on things like employee assistance programmes to provide most, if not all, of their wellbeing care.
But right now, everything is different.
While the average SME owner may be thankful for the coronavirus retention scheme, for remote working and for business rates holidays, things could be a lot tougher for the employees on the front line. Your duty of care, though, remains. How can you ensure you continue to provide that duty of care as effectively as ever?
Wellbeing during a crisis—and beyond
There are a few small changes you can make to your business and its daily workings which will greatly improve the wellbeing of your people through the pandemic—and making these changes into habits will boost morale, improve retention and mark you out as a caring employer with a great reputation. All these things are vital to the functioning of an SME—so follow these tips carefully:
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE): of course, this needs to be within reason (and budget.) You can’t procure a thousand N95 masks overnight. But basic masks, sanitiser and deep cleaning of the work environment will go a long way to reassuring staff that they’re in a safe place to work. And as a bonus, it’ll help beat the pandemic back. Hopefully, once COVID-19 is over, you won’t need a stockpile—but it’s always good to be prepared, and to let people know you’re prepared.
- Reassure: as a leader, part of your role is reassurance. People look to authority figures in a time of crisis, and if those authorities are found wanting, morale suffers deeply. Communicate constantly about the crisis, your preparations, solutions, and expectations. Be confident and calm about it all—reassuring a jittery workforce is a difficult task, but well worth the effort. The trick is to normalise the changes you’re making. Empathise, acknowledge doubt, and swiftly move to assuage worry.
- Make wellbeing a priority: employee assistance programmes are perfect for this, especially in an era where remote work is more and more normal. It can be difficult to monitor the wellbeing of employees who are working remotely or furloughed, after all—being proactive, and making sure support is available and clearly signposted before it might be needed, is a brilliant way to head off the staffing impacts that a crisis can have. When people have a friendly, reassuring counsellor a mere phone call away—for free—they're able to face doubt and worry with much more confidence.
- Adapt: we can’t stress this strongly enough. Things are moving quickly in the world of work right now, and expectations have changed from even a few short months ago. If people can work remotely, and you’re confident in their ability, let them. Managing remote workers isn’t as alien and strange as it might seem, and in many cases leads to an increase in happiness and productivity as people’s work/life balance improves. And if you’re not sure what your business needs to do inorder to adapt...
- Ask for feedback: no-one knows what they need in order to feel safe, encouraged and productive in the post-COVID world more than your employees themselves. And the best way to figure out what they need is to ask them directly. This could be part of an engagement survey, a company-wide email, or individually in 1-2-1 meetings. The important thing is to ask what people need, listen, the act upon the suggestions.
These tips will help you to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis on your people, your business, and yourself. But you need to commit to the changes you’ll make, which won’t necessarily be an easy task—as an SME owner, though, you’re used to hard work. Take this negative year, and make it the foundation of a resilient business that can take on the world.