For generations, office life followed a predictable pattern: Business came first, and chitchat second. Now, the trend has reversed itself. Workers seek not just basic information, but also the reassurance that comes from being able to show their humanity during a time of uncertainty and strangeness. This is a shift that can’t be ignored if you want to recover and improve employee morale in a post-pandemic economy.

As a leader, you’ve probably noticed this need for employees to focus on the personal and put watercooler banter above spreadsheet analysis. Your responsibility is not only to acknowledge this switch, but also to encourage it. Why? Essentially, your primary role has changed from CEO to employee engagement facilitator. So has mine.

When I hire people, I make a deal with each of them: I’ll provide a role and compensation. In return, employees will do their best work. But COVID-19 has added another layer to my responsibility. I’m not just the supplier of jobs. I’m also the person carrying the burden of ensuring team members feel heard, supported, and understood.

To hold up my end of the bargain, I must make empathy my dominant trait and motivator in order to improve employee morale. Otherwise, I risk losing out on the benefits of employee engagement, notably heightened innovation, unparalleled loyalty, and increased profitability.

Driving Empathy: COVID-19’s Impact on Leadership

It bears repeating that this pandemic has altered the cadence of everyday life. Employees don’t start their days the same way they did in early 2020. Instead, they’re dealing with additional stressors: health concerns, financial worries, and job insecurities among them. Sure, they want to give you the best they’ve got — and they’ve got a lot to give. But they’re shouldering tremendous pressures. If you want to help your people go from a base level of effort to the next level of ability, you’ll need to step in their shoes and lead with emotional intelligence.

This isn’t to suggest you shouldn’t concentrate on the “nuts and bolts” aspects of running your company. After all, these factors are critical to your business’s stability. However, you can’t overlook your need to be a caring leader who prioritizes employee morale and psychological safety. Without the full engagement of your workforce, your brand can’t compete. And engagement can only happen when employees feel your full support.

How to Improve Employee Morale and Engage Your Workforce

Want to bolster your sense of empathy and sharpen your leadership skills? Start by putting the following techniques into action:

1. Treat everyone equally. As a leader, it should come as no surprise to you that everyone wants to be treated fairly. Therefore, hold all your actions against the golden rule. Are you acting fairly across the board? Have you made an effort to understand your people and what they’re going through so you can be there equally for them all? Workers are juggling serious issues ranging from COVID-19 case numbers to social unrest. Be sure you’re looking at everyone through the same lens and giving them adequate, balanced attention.

2. Make staff morale boosters a top concern. Employees want to feel a sense of community — especially if they’re social distancing or working remotely. Just as you did in the early days of the pandemic, keep up with daily or regular Zoom meetings. Don’t make a big deal if someone’s dog or child jumps into the picture because the point of your meetings isn’t just business. Instead, it’s to forge tighter bonds between everyone on the team and boost employee morale.

3. Communicate more than you normally would. Virtual one-on-one meetings. Daily email updates. Video messages. No matter what type of communication has worked so far, keep going. You can’t overcommunicate at the moment, particularly when staffers crave information and updates about a constantly evolving work environment. Help personnel sleep better at night by being frank and compassionate. Even a minute’s worth of conversation with a stressed-out employee can be meaningful.

4. Include all need-to-know parties in key decisions. Previously, you might have made some mid- or high-level decisions on your own. Now, engage others in the process so they don’t feel excluded. Give people at all strata within your organization a chance to contribute to efforts that will make your business stronger, even if it takes a little longer to get things done.

5. Offer financial support. On the one hand, you’re in charge of keeping your business afloat. On the other, you’re contractually bound to provide for workers. Successfully balancing those duties might mean getting creative by temporarily reducing pay or cutting working hours — but do whatever you can to keep talent on board. If layoffs become inevitable, help downsized workers connect with potential employers, update their résumés, and move into the next stages of their careers.

You probably never thought that your job title could one day be “primary staff morale booster.” However, you’ve learned what we’re all discovering: Alone, we’re limited. But when we share our talents and lift those around us, we can do more than we ever dreamed. Championships aren’t won by individuals, and companies don’t beat the odds based on their leaders alone. Your long-term strength and success lie in building a group of empowered, engaged employees.

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