What the pandemic taught companies about leadership

4 min read
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I own and run multiple companies with several hundred employees in North America, and so far, sadly, I have lost two employees to COVID-19 . Will I lose more? That fear does not let me sleep, although I have taken all the recommended precautions and have even overcome them in most cases.

There is nothing that terrifies an entrepreneur more than doing everything right and things keep going wrong. I thought I had been through all the possible challenges of entrepreneurship, and I believed that those battles had shaped my character. However, nothing prepared me for the possibility of losing the people I worked with and loved.

Among all the lessons I’ve learned in 2020, the biggest has been this: The pandemic has revealed how many business leaders really think, and it hasn’t been pretty. Let’s count the shapes.

“Do what I say, not what I do” is not a way to lead

At the beginning of the pandemic, a researcher at the University of Washington estimated that more than 14 million workers in the United States could be exposed to COVID-19 each week. That could be why an October survey by the Pew Research Center found that 71% of workers who could do their work primarily from home have been telecommuting at least most of the time.

As much as I believe in safety, I also believe in going back to work. That is why we have returned to our office with all the employees who are not at risk, but only half at a time. To maintain social distancing, all other desks are now empty.

I’m not the only one doing this, but I have met and heard from business leaders who insist that their employees return while these leaders are staying at home or hiding in their offices. They should not require their employees to have different safety standards than their own.

You have to continue to recognize those who go beyond

In the midst of the pandemic, I saw the range of human emotions. Some employees threw themselves into their work, while others tried to take advantage of the work-from-home situation. A handful of employees actually innovated in new ways to safely excel despite COVID-19 restrictions. I have made sure to recognize and reward these wonderful people.

Image: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

It is worth smiling

Of course, there aren’t going to be many promotions during a pandemic, but here’s a headline you might not expect to see: “35 Companies Increased Employee Benefits Amid COVID-19.”

An EBN article from December showed how these companies were offering or increasing benefits like daycare, wellness programs, flexible hours, and even telemedicine. Why spend more money during a pandemic? Because those few dollars return many more.

At my company, we adopt flexible hours, but we also kept our annual tenure bonuses for employees. Many of them expected them to be cut. We normally recognize these employees at our annual party, and they were hoping it would be canceled.

Instead, we celebrate the party virtually. We paid to have boxes of food and a small bottle of champagne shipped to the homes of hundreds of employees, where they could eat and drink with their families while we recognized our employees through Zoom.

Was it worth the money? Of course. I received many heartfelt emails from employees who were touched by having a bit of frivolity and joviality in their workplace as the pandemic dragged on.

Long after people get vaccinated, your employees will remember what you did for them.

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