34064414_MOne year ago, we were beginning to see the direct impacts of COVID-19 on our lives. But the impending changes turned out to be more far-reaching than most of us could ever have imagined.

In many instances, it wasn’t the changes to our daily personal lives so much as it was the resulting ripples that caused such havoc. For example, most of us were able to go without eating out at our favorite restaurant for a couple of weeks without feeling any negative impact. We missed our favorite dish, but we didn’t really suffer from its absence. Unfortunately, though, the restaurant did suffer. Wait staff wasn’t needed when the restaurant had to move to carryout only. The restaurant wasn’t serving as much food through carry out, so they cut back on orders from vendors. And the ripples started to affect more and more people.

When a regular customer misses a night or two, it may not be a big deal. The natural ebb and flow of customers balance out. However, when there is no flow – when customer traffic is stopped – few businesses can continue operating indefinitely. And that loss meant employees lost jobs.

Businesses have been hit hard but not equally. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “essential businesses were more likely than nonessential businesses to increase hiring and pay. Among essential businesses, 6.9 percent hired more employees, 5.6 percent increased hours, and 6.5 percent raised salaries.” This increase was a reflection of the fact that only 16.5 percent of essential businesses were impacted by government-mandated closures while 31.5 percent of nonessential businesses were subject to those closures.

But signs of economic recovery are real. According to Bloomberg Economics, from the end of February through the beginning of March, “unemployment filings dropped, job postings remained positive, consumer confidence and retail spending improved, and the factory sector accelerated.” The February unemployment rate, released on March 5, was 6.2, down slightly from January’s 6.3, which was significantly below the expected rate.

With the pace of vaccinations accelerating, we’re all cautiously optimistic. Here’s something to keep in mind: As businesses are monitoring the economic news to help make the decisions that will boost them back into productivity and profit, employees are hoping for some relief from the fear and stress that has loomed throughout the pandemic. They’re looking for effective leadership.

As you communicate with your employees, recognize the uncertainty and anxiety that people have experienced and are experiencing. Provide regular communication. Provide a way for you and your senior executives to receive feedback. Make well-being a priority. More than ever, employees value employers that make decisions with the well-being of their staff in mind. It’s also time to work on re-creating a sense of belonging. Many companies have had employees working remotely or otherwise distanced over the past year. As employees return to the office, it’s up to each company’s leadership to ensure that teams come together effectively and cohesively.

It’s also time to step up communication. Employees undoubtedly have a lot of questions. Can they quit worrying about being laid off or let go permanently? How long can they continue to work at home? What if they want to continue working at home at least part of the time? How did the company weather the global pandemic? Will my job change? Will there be raises this year? If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to fill your employees in on the state of your business and let them know what plans you have. We’re all ready to let go of some of the stress.

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