GEETA DHAMI

For many of us experiencing a quarantine situation for the first time, the changes to our way of life can seem rather harsh. For those of us living in a country where freedom of movement has been curtailed to such an extent as to make even exercising outdoors seem like a major luxury of the past, it is easy to overlook the fact that perhaps, staying indoors out of harm’s way is in fact “the luxury” when compared to what many of our compatriots have to face when out on the frontline. The real heroes of the piece are without a doubt those who are risking their lives every day to keep our essential services running. And this is no small feat. For many, the fear of exposing ourselves to the invisible enemy can be quite overwhelming. Suddenly, a trip to the supermarket or to the corner shop can seem like a major event. But when we take a moment to consider what it might feel like to be one of the many workers who may not have a choice but to get up every morning, and knowingly expose themselves to those who may be infected, it puts the whole meaning of hero into perspective. It struck me how frightening it must feel to be a healthcare worker knowingly entering a war zone every day to confront an enemy that can’t be seen but is ever present. These key workers know that they are not only risking their own health but also that of their families as well. So, they make even bigger sacrifices to try and stay away from their loved ones in order to protect them. Yet these are normal people like you and me. And whilst making these hard choices for the benefit of others, they still need somewhere to stay, they still need to shop for food and at the same time deal with numerous bills that need to be paid. I spoke to a manual worker recently who told me that although he had received his wage by cheque a week ago, he still couldn’t access his pay due to the long queues and restricted opening hours of his bank. And yet, a simple gesture by his employer of changing the way they pay their employees during these unprecedented times would have made all the difference to this worker, who was already struggling to feed his family due to financial hardship and restricted access to grocery stores during the lockdown. At a time like this, employers should not underestimate the real difference that they can make to their employees’ lives by offering real and tangible support. In some countries, supermarket chains are going the extra mile by paying a 10-15% bonus to their frontline staff to recognize their hard work and dedication. Others are making commitments that there will be no job losses related to the coronavirus crisis for at least the next three months, giving staff some much needed breathing space and a little financial reassurance. A retailer in the UK has set up a hardship fund, allowing employees to apply for funds if they are struggling to make ends meet. Food industry groups are offering extensive health, childcare and quarantine coverage as well as free meals and transport and three months’ guaranteed pay, sick leave and loans for those in financial distress. Landlords, in their thousands, are offering healthcare workers accommodation for free or next to nothing, enabling these essential services’ workers to take on extra shifts and to have a place to stay away from their families. Such examples of financial assistance offer hope to so many during these times of great economic uncertainty. Yet there is still more that we as employers can do. More than ever before, employees also look to their employers for their emotional needs to be met. With the blurring of lines between work and home-life even more pronounced, employees look for reassurance from their employers to help them get through difficult times. And these are those times. Ways in which employers can rally their teams whilst boosting morale and confidence is to show compassion and empathy. Whilst people seek clarity and direction from their CEO, they also want to know that chief executives have feelings just like the rest of us. Demonstrating compassion and humanity in times of hardship can build trust through emotional accessibility that we would otherwise not get to experience or see. Demonstrating gratitude is another way to boost morale; remind employees of the importance of what they do and show appreciation for the value that they bring every day. Expressing gratitude will not only improve employee engagement but also productivity. Needless to say, communication is key. Many leaders are expounding the benefits of communicating to their teams consistently. Some employers may worry about over communicating, but in reality, employees want to hear from their employers as often as possible, be it daily or even several times a day. A simple phone call, an email or even a text, so that employees know that their organization cares about their wellbeing, can inspire resilience at a time when it is needed the most. And to be most effective, there is a need for transparency. Employees know that the pandemic is putting businesses at risk, and they want their leaders to be open about how they are planning to deal with this. Without a doubt, this is a time where CEOs will need to wear many hats, and those employers that can navigate this crisis with clarity, purpose, empathy and above all humanity, are those who will be best remembered by the very employees who we will all be counting on to rebuild and sustain our businesses in the aftermath of this crisis.