Five Ways to Protect and Motivate Your Employees During the COVID 19 Pandemic

Michelle Hopkins

Business leaders committed to workplace health and safety programs feel a responsibility to protect their employees and to communicate effectively to support these efforts. Concentra® is your occupational health partner in meeting this commitment. We are continuing to provide injury care, physical exams, and other employer health services. In addition, Concentra Telemed® makes it easy to have consistent, high-quality care while complying with shelter-in-place orders and the need to stay close to home during the pandemic. Please check out these resources that demonstrate how Concentra is working to keep your employees healthy and safe from the coronavirus: 

Concentra Telemed for Occupational Injuries and Illness

Your commitment to health and safety is your ace in the hole

As the global coronavirus pandemic puts the business community to the test, you can rest assured that your commitment to workforce health and safety is very much an organizational strength and can serve to create a stronger, more cohesive workplace in the brighter days ahead.

Let’s set aside the pandemic for a moment and recall the guidance offered in the Workplace Health Promotion initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC states:

“Leaders can act as models or champions for the effort, achieve buy-in and support from other levels of the organization, appoint a workplace health coordinator and wellness council members to manage the program, cultivate a supportive work environment with management and employees, and dedicate the necessary resources to the effort.”

As good as this advice is in ordinary times, its value multiplies in times of crisis. In the statement above, five phrases are boldfaced because these are five areas that offer useful support and instruction to managers and supervisors on how to protect and motivate your employees during the global health crisis.

1. Model right behavior for your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

Employees have many opportunities to observe their supervisor’s behavior. They may choose to model good behaviors to increase their success. This can mean arriving early, working hard, and being collaborative, positive, and respectful. If your workplace is one that has shifted to working from home, you may wonder how employees can model your behavior when they can’t see you. Here are a few ways they are still watching:

  • Are they able to see you logged into the company’s system all hours of the day and night? You may see this as being a dedicated leader. But an extreme change in behavior can communicate a growing avalanche of problems to some staff. Others may wonder if being available 24/7 is the new expectation for everyone. What is most helpful during this time – we’ll call it right behavior – is to communicate there are still boundaries between work and home, and the regular workday is satisfactory. Besides establishing a model for employees, this behavior communicates leadership and self-assurance that will help keep employees focused and productive.

    As recently as two years ago, just under one-third of employees could work from home, did work from home, and were paid to work from home, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report for 2017-2018.1 That likely means that many employees now are being thrust into working remotely for the first time to elude the coronavirus. Later in this article, we will explore how you can help them adapt to working from home to maintain productivity.

  • Are you maintaining your regular schedule of team meetings? Keeping the business moving and honoring the regularly scheduled meetings (select a team member to represent you if you truly can’t get away) will help ease the anxiety employees may be feeling on many levels. Striving for normalcy in as many areas of business as possible contributes to stability during a crisis, both psychologically and financially. An Inc. magazine article on “Five Strategies to Restore Calm,” also advises business leaders to remember the importance of flexibility and seeking help, when needed. This type of right behavior will serve as a powerful example for employees to do the same.2

  • Are you a compassionate leader? Compassionate leadership grew out of the field of mindfulness, pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn as a means of reducing stress, Forbes tells us.3 Throughout modern business history, the practice of compassionate leadership has waxed and waned. In most cases, it typically involves making an effort to feel what others are feeling (empathy), trying to understand what others are thinking (cognitive), and trying to take the concerns of others and lessen their suffering (motivation), as explained by Marc Lesser of SIYLI, a professional development organization that teaches mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and other leadership tools.

    Being a compassionate leader sounds like a good idea but may seem fundamentally difficult to put into practice during the COVID-19 pandemic when emergency response meetings are encroaching on your time. However, it is possible to be a compassionate leader without virtually rounding up all your employees for an open dialogue of how they are feeling about the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, such an approach may be like opening a wound and immobilizing your team from their own efforts to step away periodically from the ongoing news reports of new cases of the virus and the rising death toll.

    If you know your employees fairly well, then you likely already have an idea who may be most worried. Older individuals are hard hit by the virus. Employees with young children have other concerns. Send an instant message if one of your employees is facing a particular struggle or has tested positive. A general email just saying hello to the team, reporting on your own family, and sending your good wishes for their families also shows compassion. A crisis is not just about the continuity of business logistics and service. It is a time to demonstrate the sense of community that unites us all.

2. Achieve buy-in and support from other levels of the organization

During the COVID-19 pandemic, your business and all others, as well as government agencies, are working, first and foremost, to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate its effects. But you also have to contain the spread of rumors and ensure the correct information gets to the right people. It will be impossible to protect and motivate your employees unless they receive clear and accurate messages on a regular cadence.

An essential first step is to designate a lead person in critical departments and company functions, each of whom will set up an internal network to cascade directives down through the ranks and collect intelligence on new developments within the department or function that are relevant to the crisis response effort.

Some of the key departments and functions to consider during the pandemic are:

  • The executive leadership team and board of directors. They are the captains who will make the decisions necessary to handle the coronavirus impact and maintain operations.

  • Communications and marketing. These professionals are invaluable in the knowledge they possess of how to message appropriately and succinctly, both within the organization and externally. They have devoted their careers to being strategic, crafting messages in a variety of forms, and managing crisis communications. They can also serve as a valuable resource to managers and supervisors on how to talk with their teams about essential needs for health, safety, and productivity.

  • Human resources. This department will be a linchpin of internal crisis communications during the coronavirus pandemic by interpreting and communicating company policies, making decisions relevant to employee health and initiatives to support it, and basically all impacts on the workforce. Human resources should work closely with company communicators and the executive leadership team.

  • Information technology. In terms of crisis impact, it may initially be difficult to see how your information technology department will be affected; a fast-spreading flu is not the kind of event that was anticipated in the Y2K alert 20 years ago. However, maintaining all systems and operations is especially critical now. In addition, significant portions of your workforce will be moving from office settings to working from home. This means a potential onslaught of connectivity issues and questions to address from employees unaccustomed to the logistics of a virtual office.

  • Training. Very likely, many scheduled training programs will be put on hold, but this is an opportunity to dispatch the training team to new, creative pursuits teaching the adaptive skills employees will need to adjust to the evolving environment. The crush of the crisis might seem like a bad time to conduct training. But keep in mind, the 100-page federal government response plan shared with the New York Times anticipates the coronavirus pandemic could last 18 months.4 The sooner you orient your employees to new skills that will help them remain productive – such as using technology tools from remote locations – the smoother and more efficient your operations will be now and in months ahead.

  • Field offices and sales. It is important to stay connected with these employees through designated leads during the pandemic. They are your window into the world and the world’s window into what you are doing to ease the impact of the pandemic and whether it is making a difference. The impact of the pandemic was felt almost immediately by small business owners, depressing sales, disrupting supply chains and felling employees to illness, according to the NFIB Research Center.5 The US Chamber of Commerce encourages businesses to stay connected with customers, let them know your pandemic response efforts, increase your social media presence, and expand your use of digital channels. Your field offices and sales force can not only communicate your efforts, but also express interest and concern for customers by assisting or sharing resource knowledge, where possible. Your demeanor and collaborative spirit will be remembered long after the pandemic ebbs.6

  • Customer service employees and front office receptionist. These employees need to be provided regular updates on the company’s response and status of operations to field questions from customers and prospects and to be able to direct calls appropriately. To use them as a grassroots information-gathering network, make sure they know where to send any intelligence they learn and how to document it appropriately with the person’s name, business, and contact information.

Also, consider changing your home page to share with the public what your company is doing to protect your employees and contribute to public health safety. Here are two examples: AT&T and Concentra.

3. Appoint an internal health coordinator and support team members

The CDC used different terminology, but the idea remains a useful one. Essentially, designate an individual or team of individuals to closely monitor positive coronavirus tests and serious illness among your employees to help track and mitigate the spread of the virus among your workforce. Consider a support team to help disseminate health information among employees where infection risk may be heightened.

4. Cultivate a supportive work environment with management and employees

During a crisis, it is vital to respect and use the organizational hierarchy to ensure information flows properly and accurately. But here is one creative instance where you can bring employees at various levels together on one team. Sudden need to work from home can be as fearful a circumstance as the virus itself to some people. But there are employees at all levels of your organization who have vast experience in working from home. They know the challenges and how to overcome them. Create an advisory group to work with other teams who need help; also let them work on training programs to get everyone up to speed for their new normal.

5. Dedicate the necessary resources to the effort

Before the coronavirus onslaught, your company may have been riding a financial wave of one sort or another. It may have been thrilling. Or treacherous. Or tricky and too close to call. You can’t obsess about that ride right now. Stay mindful of business performance, certainly, but you also need to use your resources to meet the needs you are facing today. Just as in your handling of the crisis, so it is with financial oversight. You need to be a good steward of the future while also meeting the needs in these most extraordinary times.

Bright days are ahead

There is value in keeping perspective. Three months after reporting its first case of the coronavirus, China began experiencing consecutive days of no new cases. The world has medical knowledge and capacity it did not have in other times in history. Smallpox persisted for thousands of years, and it was not eradicated until 1972. As a civilization, we have come a long way. Every crisis is an opportunity to become better prepared and more resilient for the future. The coronavirus will recede from our lives and from the headlines. How your business moves forward from the experience is determined by your calm and thoughtful decision making today. It is also determined by your spirit, including your resolve and your ability to laugh and lighten the load of others. Seeing the challenge of this crisis as an opportunity to learn and grow can be your silver lining.

1 Economic news release Table 1. Workers who could work at home, did work at home, and were paid to work at home for 2017-2018. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed March 22, 2020.

2 Levin M. Facing a Company Crisis? Follow These Five Strategies to Restore the Calm. Inc. May 31, 2018.

3 Warrell M. Compassionate Leadership: A Mindful Call to Lead from Both Head and Heart. Forbes. May 20, 2017.

4 Sapiakoglu Y. Coronavirus pandemic could last over 18 months, according to a federal plan. Live Science. March 21, 2020.

5 NFIB Study: Coronavirus Impact on Small Businesses. March 13, 2020.

6 Fallon N. Staying Connected with Customers Through the Coronavirus Outbreak. CO. US Chamber of Commerce. March 13, 2020.