team of employees at work wearing masks
From re-enforcing and reflecting company values to finding the right ways to promote engagement, there are several things employees are looking for during times of crisis. — Getty Images/pixelfit

Whether they return to work or stay at home, employees have certain hopes and expectations of their employers. Knowing what they want can help a small business owner adapt to COVID-19 successfully and ensure a satisfied and engaged workforce. Among the findings from a new survey by the research arm of the Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG), a provider of workforce management solutions:

  • Nearly half of employees say their top concern is quick notification of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • More than a third of employees are worried about future layoffs and furloughs.
  • About 30% of workers wish employers provided more flexibility through technological solutions—with the wish highest among those with families.

While about 59% of employees say their company has taken at least some measures to prevent burnout during the pandemic, 29% say they wish their organizations would act with more empathy. And 43% say efforts to prevent burnout should be a top priority.

“As organizations around the world operate through an unprecedented global pandemic, they need to double down on their employee-experience strategy,” says Chris Mullen, PhD, executive director of UKG’s Workforce Institute. “However, instead of looking for trendy perks, they must get back to the foundational needs every employee requires: physical safety, psychological security, job stability and flexibility.”

The pandemic should serve as a reminder to small business owners that at the most deeply rooted level, stability is crucial to employees.

“Especially now, employees are concerned about losing their jobs,” said Daphne Pedersen, PhD, a professor and chair of the sociology department at the University of North Dakota. “To the extent possible, keeping people on the payroll should be a high priority. Employees want to know that their job is stable, that the company cares about their personal and occupational well-being, and that there is open and honest communication. These things are no different than in the past, but amplified in the current climate.”

Your pandemic response can’t be just talk and empathy. There’s real work to be done.

Employees want to know that their job is stable, that the company cares about their personal and occupational well-being, and that there is open and honest communication.

Daphne Pedersen, PhD, professor and chair, University of North Dakota

“There is a big difference between listening, making claims and taking action,” Pedersen told CO–. “Employees want to be heard, and this is a first step in creating a supportive environment. Without action, any claims or promises are meaningless. Employees are quick to see any discrepancies between what a company promises and what it does.”

Your company should have a clear mission statement and set of values that pandemic remedies can spring from, said Pedersen, who researches well-being in the workplace. “If these things don't exist, having an implicit set of company values is enough to get started making changes that will benefit employees,” she said. “The formal documents can come later.”

Specifically, businesses should focus on employee health and safety by keeping the workplace COVID-free, Pedersen said. If you haven’t already done so, establishing clear guidelines and routines for cleaning, social distancing, masks and social distancing, while also limiting or continuing to limit travel and allowing remote work and flexible schedules.

“It's important that the last of these—remote work, flexible schedules—are institutionalized changes, and not individual accommodations,” Pedersen said.

Meanwhile, don’t lose sight of basic management strategies that are as important as ever in confusing, challenging times, according to Gartner, a research firm. Employees need clear objectives and regular updates on the company’s status and progress and how each employee’s efforts help out.

“One of the top engagement drivers for employees is seeing their work contribute to company goals,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research on human resources topics for Gartner, Inc. “Employees who feel confident about the importance of their job to the success of the organization feel less anxious about their job security.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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