As the world struggles to wrap its mind around the seismic disruption of the last few weeks, business executives must acknowledge that a mental health crisis is unavoidable. For Americans, COVID-19 has unashamedly exposed the cracks in our economy, in our leadership’s obsession with profits over people, and most critically, in our flawed and outdated healthcare system. However, in a strange turn of events, the very CEOs and business owners who are often vilified now have the opportunity and obligation to communicate to their employees that they—the employees—do matter. It is time for us to take care of each other.
Loneliness is dangerous, and our new normal calls for us to self-isolate. A new wave of mental health needs will soon crest, and as tough as the situation has been for leaders, it’s going to be a lot tougher among the ranks of employees. Why? Because some workers were already hanging on by a thread before coronavirus dismantled their lives. Many were already struggling with depression and anxiety. The constant news and uncertainty thrust on them by COVID-19 may be the weight to tip the ship. Leaders have to find the right words and say the right things not to make matters worse.
Here is the main message you need to convey: Things will get better. Even though the economy is now contracting, at some point, it will expand again. In the meantime, we are here for you. Retaining employees and supporting them during this difficult time is our top priority. After all, there is no business without people. COVID-19 may have caught us off guard, but we are dedicating every resource at our disposal to respond to this unexpected challenge.
It is vital to use inclusive language—we, us, our, everyone, family, children, neighbors—in all communications with employees. Now is the time for leaders to be seen as a part of the pack rather than above or outside of it. This is a shared struggle against a common enemy. If your company has the resources to sustain it, offer your employees more mental and behavioral health resources effective immediately to combat anxiety. Remind them of what may already be available through Human Resources. Offer relief. Offer them strength. Tell the truth, even if it hurts, but follow it with sincere empathy.
The way organizations treat employees during this time will heavily influence their (the company’s) fate when it all ends. If, unfortunately, you have to let staff go or ask them to work without pay, express it humbly. If looks are any indication from Marriott International’s CEO, nothing is harder or more heartbreaking than telling good people they may get let go. But at the end of the day, you, as the leader, are much more likely to have greater access to resources than your employees. This is not lost on your staff. It is part of why they may spiral into a mental health crisis.
While it is important to focus on the physical and financial health of the country, it is critical to lift the veil on resources available for people living with conditions such as depression, panic, and anxiety. How equipped are you to deal with the massive uptick in the mental healthcare needs of your employees? How much time has your communications team spent on specific messaging to this need? How generous can your company and its leadership team be? Will it go that far, or will it do what is expected—put profits over people?
Employees are desperate for paid sick leave and continued health coverage. They’ve been begging for years to deaf ears, but this is a new day. Coronavirus may be ushering in a new era in which the United States can finally be on par with other developed nations that have long-taken a stronger stance on employee wellness. While it is understandable that smaller businesses cannot afford to provide large programs for their employees, they can still offer some things that are free: trust, integrity, and goodwill.
Every person who was employed before COVID-19 turned into a pandemic may no longer have a job when the dust settles, but one thing is for sure: they’ll never forget how their employers went about laying them off. It is important that leaders tailor their language to comfort those who are vulnerable to isolation and worry about their financial futures. It is necessary to emotionally step into the shoes of every employee, from those at entry-level to the managers, and let them know how strong your resolve is for getting the best possible outcome. Work with your communications team (or a consultant if you don’t have one) to craft one-sheets with wellness tips for your staff. Communicate often with updates on the state of the company as well as suggestions for keeping employees in a healthy mental state.
Connect with your staff in a way that ensures that conversations about your company on social media are admirable. Use video as often as you can. Let your workers look into your eyes. Appear calm. Appear resilient. Appear optimistic. Use compassionate language. Be communicative rather than articulate; there’s a difference. Encourage your employees to stay calm and to stay safe by telling them what you are doing to take care of them.
Having worked with many C-level executives, we understand it is lonely at the top. The majority of your employees will never understand what you actually do for a living. They may see you moving about on campus, always in meetings, and traveling non-stop, but still not perceive that as work, because they don’t see you toiling amongst the ranks. Is that fair? No, but it goes with the territory. At Phenomenal Writing, we know that the largest part of an executive’s job is thinking and communicating what is to be done. It is your role to have the vision for success and to bring together talented people who can make it happen. To continue leading effectively, especially in times of crisis, you need someone who will collaborate with you to ensure your communications aren’t tone-deaf or worse, non-existent, except for bad news. In this time of need, when everyone depends on you to give them relief, we are here to help you find the right words. Phenomenal Writing is to help you break through communication barriers and connect with your teams. Contact us today for more information.
An Executive’s Communication Toolkit to Tackle COVID-19