Taking Care of Your Team: How to Support Employees Through Pandemic Winter

With COVID-19 cases spiking across the country and a long winter ahead, many employees are struggling to keep their morale up. You may not be able to host your annual staff holiday party or other end-of-year office traditions, but this is an important time to extend patience and grace to your staff.

This year has put tremendous stress on everyone. Your small acts of kindness and understanding have the potential to make a big difference in your employees’ lives. Here are a few ways you can support your team through the pandemic winter.

Support Work-life Balance

Offer extra paid time off or personal days so that employees can rest and care for themselves. Fast Company notes that a recent study from Blind found 68 percent of employees feel more burned out now than they did pre-pandemic, a number that’s been steadily rising. Flexibility and work-life balance mean a great deal amid COVID-19.

A 2015 Glassdoor Survey shows that 80 percent of employees would prefer benefits or perks over a pay raise. Consider your team’s individual needs and offer them a variety of perks that encourage work-life balance. These perks might include a flexible schedule, childcare assistance, or a professional development stipend.

You can also set the tone for work-life balance for your team through empathy and role modeling. Take the time to check in with your employees individually and know how they’re doing. Encourage them not to work or respond to emails in the evenings or on the weekend. Then, demonstrate these boundaries yourself.

Look Beyond the Box for Holiday Gifts

Many companies have traditionally hosted end-of-year gatherings and given their teams branded swag or other company gifts. Instead of gifts this year, consider Visa gift cards for groceries, self-care, and other necessities. Your team has different needs and stresses during the pandemic. Having extra money on hand to use at their discretion means more than fancy gifts.

If you typically host an annual staff holiday party, explore re-allocating these funds to your team members as a bonus. You can also look into offerings such as mental health or wellness benefits to bolster your existing benefits package. 

Even if the budget isn’t available for cash gifts or extra benefits, there are plenty of creative, low-cost ways to recognize your team and boost their morale. Be gracious with your staff and let them know you’re ready to support them in whatever ways work best for them as individuals. 

Support Mindfulness and Self-care

One meaningful way you can support your team is by gathering and sharing resources that will help them through COVID winter. Everything from national hotlines to meditation apps such as  Calm, Headspace, and Shine to creative winter activities can help employees know you are there for them and want to ensure their well-being.

You can even start a Slack Channel or a Google Doc where employees share resources and ideas they’ve found helpful. Informal threads such as “Mindfulness Monday,” where team members share words of wisdom, or “Furry Friend Friday” where team members share photos of their pets, can be a simple way to boost morale.

Encourage regular check-ins with managers where team members can openly share what they need to be successful in their roles. Role model setting professional boundaries so that your employees feel empowered to care for themselves and advocate for their needs.

Don’t Lose Sight of the Importance of Community. 

In-person gatherings may be off the table, but what about hosting a low-cost, virtual holiday party focused on staff appreciation and boosting morale? We’re all stronger when we stick together. By offering virtual community-building opportunities throughout the winter, you’ll ensure your team has a strong professional support network to lean on.

Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering,” offers helpful tips for how to reimagine virtual gatherings. “Connection doesn’t happen on its own,” Parker said in a conversation with Brené Brown on the “Unlocking Us” podcast. “You have to design your gatherings for the kinds of connections you want to create.”

Keep online gatherings optional, short, and with a purpose. Maybe it’s a themed happy hour, a skill-building workshop, or a conversation about your favorite local organizations and what they do to better your community. 

The cold, dark winter will exacerbate existing COVID-19 challenges for employees everywhere. Above all else, focus on leading with compassion and understanding. The camaraderie you foster and the resources you share will help your team weather this difficult season together.