No, You Don’t Need a Million Dollars to Boost Your Employees’ Emotional Well-Being

But you can do these things instead (and it’ll cost you almost nothing)

Athif Ibrahim
Jun 18, 2020 · 7 min read

I recently came across an interesting article about a CEO who made $1.6 million in the stock market and gave it all to his “non-highly compensated” employees.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 economy — and any time in the fiscal reality, really — this is a magnanimous thing for any founder CEO or company to do.

Despite the circumstances that inspired the CEO to consider giving his employees such a financial gift, it is a roaring example of an employee-first leadership.

A Little Advice

Now, much as you would like it to be so, most of you will not be able to make such a financial gesture to your employees. You know it is good for morale. That it makes employees feel valued. And you know that when your employees feel valued, they will move mountains to help you grow, if not help you stay afloat.

And you know you want to be able to do that to your team, too.

But you can’t.

Not when you are looking at a curve that shows no signs of flattening. Not with the loyalty of your customers dwindling and courting a new one is becoming near impossible.

But you don’t give up. That’s not in your DNA. You want to do good by your employees. That’s what good leaders do.

So, you crunch the numbers. It shows that you can barely make the payroll next month. Then you look at the global economy. And it occurs to you that that whole damn thing is on life support.

And together, those two facts scare the living daylights out of you.

So, no. You cannot play that card.

End of story.

But Here’s the Thing

A lack of money has nothing to with how you take care of the emotional well-being of your employees. But it— and I can't stress this enough — has everything to do with how you make them feel.

Here’s Another Thing

Chances are, you already have the platforms, tools, people, and support systems necessary to be able to do that.

To be near while afar.
To provide value while apart.
To be each other’s emotional support.

Here are three tips on how you can contribute to the emotional well-being of those who you lead — especially in a time of crisis.

#1. Pick up the phone

Get on the phone or get on a Zoom call and have a one-on-one with individual employees.

Don’t talk about the financials or how awful your three-month forecasts look like.

Your employees aren’t dumb. They already know that.

Instead, ask them about how they are feeling. About how they are coping during these uncertain times.

Make them feel like they are talking to a thinking, emotional being.

Don’t make the call feel scripted where you try to cover some stupid five-point plan as you do during your meetings.

There’s a time and place for everything, and such calls aren’t the time nor the place to do that.

Make the conversation a safe space for them to share what’s on their minds and what’s bothering them without being judged or penalized in any way.

Make it abundantly clear from the very beginning.

And if they don’t know where to start, ask them about their day or their loved ones.

  • Are they safe?
  • Are they well?

And listen — really listen — to what they have to say.

And whatever they say:

Empathize. Empathize. Empathize.

Don’t just “Oh, yeah? That’s too bad” your way out of it. If there’s something you can do about it, offer your assistance.

If you can’t do anything about it but you know someone who can help them, go ahead, and refer them.

And show some vulnerability from your side, too. Don’t try to hide behind a facade of being the strongest person on the call with your Stoic mental toughness and resilience.

Check your ego at the door. Be human and relate to them on a human level. Tell them about how you are coping. Share your stories but be careful not to overdo it.

Remember: This conversation is about them, and not you.

#2. Leverage your internal communication channels to reach out to employees

Finding it hard to do one-on-ones with each of them individually while also trying to save the company from certain perish?

Then take advantage of your company’s internal communications channels and leverage it to reach your employees wherever they are.

One of the things you can do is to share impromptu videos from you and other leaders on such platforms.

It could be about how your day went or something you experienced that everyone could relate to or learn from.

No filters. No editing. Just you in your rawest, truest self.

Use those short videos to remind them they are still your number one priority.

  • Share with them some expert tips on how they can deal with the stress and anxiety that’s synonymous with a crisis.
  • Share with them the updates from the government and the relevant authorities and what it means for the business, so they know exactly where things stand.
  • Share with them the resources and opportunities you are making available so they can use the downtime to learn, grow, and enhance their skillsets instead of squandering it.
  • And use such short videos as an opportunity to communicate progress and updates about what’s going on within the company. It keeps your employees informed and gives them direction as to what they can expect next.
  • Be honest and don’t sugarcoat anything. That’s how you build trust with your team and even though it is difficult, your employees deserve the unvarnished truth about everything. They might not like what you share, but they’ll appreciate your honesty.

And don’t worry about over-communicating. You will not lose any points for over-communicating during a crisis. But you could lose a lot if you don’t communicate enough.

So, get on those internal communication channels and show your employees that they are still part of a functioning company that hasn’t forgotten about their employees.

In short, update even if there’s no update.

#3. Assign managers as buddies or other colleagues as peer coaches and encourage them to check-in with their assigned buddies daily to guard against emotional isolation

A surefire way to boost your employee's emotional well-being is to put mechanisms and support systems to take care of their mental health.

Creating a buddy system where each manager — including yourself — is assigned a handful of colleagues where they are tasked to be in contact with those who are assigned to them daily will be a good start.

And to make it more effective, make those virtual “hangouts” video-based instead of a mere phone call if the employee is okay with it. If they are not okay with it, don’t force it.

A daily virtual hangout — especially if it’s video-based — could help combat the emotional isolation felt by your employees and give rhythm and structure to their day.

Here are some of the things you can encourage your team to talk about and ask their assigned employees during such virtual hangouts.

  • Are they staying connected with their friends and family?
  • Are they noticing any changes in their eating and sleeping patterns?
  • Are they trying to keep fit and healthy by engaging in some form of exercise?
  • Are they feeling anxious, claustrophobic, or trapped? Is it making them engage in unhealthy habits such as eating junk foods all the time or increased smoking?

A crisis can be a stressful time for a leader. It can demand your time, attention, and energy to the point you have nothing else to give. And it can demand you to be everywhere all at once.

Get your leaders to take some of those burdens off your plate. And if necessary, encourage your employees to be each other's emotional support.

Yes, it’s on you to ensure your employees are in an emotionally peak state of mind. That’s why it’s so important to put in place the necessary mechanisms, support systems, and safety nets, so it does the job for you.

Remember: To take care of your employees, you must take care of yourself first.

Final Thoughts

A financial gift is a wonderful way to motivate your employees and to show them how much you appreciate them.

But it’s not an option everyone has access to, and it certainly is not the only way you can improve your employees’ emotional state of mind — especially in a time of crisis.

Picking up your phone and having a heart-to-heart conversation with them individually or updating them even when there’s no update or creating a layer of mutual support could be just as effective in giving a boost to their emotional well-being.

People never forget how managers made them feel during a crisis. And it’s more than what a financial gift could ever give them.

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Athif Ibrahim

Written by

Team Leader @ One&Only Resorts | Ultra-runner | Writing about entrepreneurship, leadership, philosophy, and life ⟶ linktr.ee/athifibrahim

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