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5 Ways to Set Realistic Expectations for Critical Workers During a Crisis

Set essential employees up for success at a time when everyone needs them most 

During the global coronavirus pandemic, essential workers have been asked to step up like never before. Most medical personnel are accustomed to working under risk of exposure to germs, disease and the occasional deadly pathogen, but not grocery-store clerks. And while truck drivers, manufacturers, sanitation workers and other blue-collar workers are likely happy to have work during an uncertain, shaky economy, they still need guidance and reassurance from their employers. 

While your employees step up to take care of your customers and the communities you serve, make sure you take care of them in kind. The following steps will help you provide the support and tools your essential employees need to do their jobs.

1. Set clear expectations  

“As a leader, how you communicate is evident in how you value your employees,” said Michelle Mikesell, G&A Partner’s Vice President of Corporate HR. “In times of crisis, the strongest individual motivator is the ability to make a difference, and setting clear expectations provides your employees with a clear path to success.”

By providing your employees with a clear set of expectations, you’re enabling them to complete their job effectively and successfully. You can do this by being transparent with their job requirements and duties, establishing rules, and laying out what you expect from them. This will prove that your employees’ success matters to you as a leader and to the company as a whole. 

2. Cheer them on and tell your employees that what they are doing matters 

Essential employees might feel like their sacrifice to work in an environment where they are more easily exposed to the virus isn’t fully appreciated by management. They are risking their lives and risking exposing their families as well. By reminding your employees that they are making a difference, and by sharing real-life examples that illustrate your point, you will begin to notice an overall improvement in morale and work productivity. 

H-E-B, a Texas grocery store chain, has started a new motto, “Texans helping Texans,” which has helped create a feeling of unity and hope among its employees. The store has “personal shoppers” who grocery shop for customers that prefer to pick up their groceries curbside or get them delivered to their home. During this time of crisis, these personal shoppers have been putting in longer hours and potentially exposing themselves to the virus. H-E-B has made certain to praise its employees and share positive customer feedback, letting employees know that their efforts are appreciated by the company, its customers, their co-workers and their community. 

3. Set your employees up for success while promoting safety 

The most effective way to set your employees up for success is by providing them with the training, skills, knowledge and tools they need to do their jobs effectively and safely. 

Anu Mannathikuzhiyil, a Client Advocate for G&A Partners, says employers should consider overcommunicating with employees in order to help them succeed and to ensure they are aware of and are practicing safety protocol regularly. She says additional measures should include:

  • Review your sick-time policies and make sure they have been updated with new federal, state, or local ordinances recently passed to assist companies throughout the pandemic.
  • Establish policies for flexible leave. You do not want to punish employees who fear coming in to work because they fear that they will be exposed to the coronavirus. 
  • Have a plan in place in case there is an increase in employee absences. 
  • Focus on boosting employee morale and showing gratitude. 
  • During these trying times, ensure that you are more understanding toward your employees. 
  • If you have resources available to employees such as an EAP, make them aware of how to use them.

It’s important to ensure employees have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to feel safe such as gloves, masks and hand sanitizer that is at minimum 60% alcohol. Allow your employees to use their own homemade masks if they prefer it and if their masks include necessary filters to keep them safe.

4. Schedule time to check in with employees

Setting time aside for daily or weekly check-ins with employees is crucial to your employee-manager relationship . During these trying times, employees are looking up to leaders and executives for answers and support.Whether working from home or working the front lines during this pandemic, employees need trust, compassion, stability and hope. If employees begin to feel as if their manager is being unresponsive, unclear and unavailable, they may begin to feel alone and a sense of distrust toward their manager could manifest.

“Ensure that you are more understanding toward your employees during these stressful times,” Mannathikuzhiyil says. “Check in on your employees daily and make sure that employees are in the loop for any changes.”

During one-on-one check-ins or team meetings, managers should:

  • Discuss the current, evolving situation
  • Discuss career, individual, and departmental goals  
  • Review workloads
  • Ask employees what they need
  • Recognize employees individually 
  • Help keep unnecessary frustration and stress at bay
  • Outline any necessary policies or logistics needed to be addressed 

5. Listen to your employees   

Listening is one of the most important things a manager can do. During meetings managers will typically do most of the talking. But taking the time to ask for comments or concerns is essential to receiving useful feedback. For example, take five minutes during a weekly meeting to ask employees to share some good news or to ask how they are doing. By checking in on employees regularly during a crisis or otherwise, managers will be able to better gauge how their team is doing and discover whether any adjustments are needed. It also presents an opportunity to find out whether employees require more support or clearer directions to do their jobs successfully. 

Now, more than ever, employees need clear direction and support from their managers, leaders and executive teams to guide them forward. By providing employees and team members the resources they need and setting clear expectations, you will ensure success. 


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