Ask Madison: How do I continue to support my employees as they battle “COVID fatigue” as well as build upon the empathy and compassion our company embraced during the onset of the pandemic?

November 24, 2020
| ByJudd Weisgal
  • My company banded together like nothing I’ve ever seen during the COVID crisis, how do I help us keep the momentum of that mindset going?
  • Stakeholders of employee rewards and recognitions programs tailored their recognition strategy to address the immediate needs of their employees, and have found that the importance of these programs to their employees continues to grow as workforces are challenged by “COVID-fatigue” and the prolonged shift to remote work conditions.

Even amidst the onslaught of negativity and hardship that was faced during the onset and now with the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, if there was one common theme that resonated with our customers was that their teams stepped up.

They stepped up to support their co-workers, their leadership, their communities, and their families. Despite what each may have been facing personally, with some in more dire circumstances than others, at almost every turn, someone chipped in to help someone else, even in the smallest of ways.

And what we are hearing is that our customers would like to keep that momentum going.

As we spoke with our clients throughout the course of the year, they’ve noted that although shifts in their programs were important to support their teams with what they needed most during this time, they also realized that any program that celebrates their employees grew in significance as a staple for their culture. While the focus on tangible deliverables flexed, the end result was the same: to make their teams feel valued with a renewed sense of empathy and compassion for their well-being.

Today as we envision the road to recovery, and we begin to reintroduce traditional operational procedures back into our organizations, intermixed with work approaches as part of the ‘new work normal’, we also have the opportunity to adopt new courses of action in our R&R programs, focused on work, life and balance for our employees. In a sense, facing what we did this year, has a resounding effect of not taking anything for granted, whether that be in our professional and personal lives. As leaders who are in the business of encouraging and sharing positivity by the very nature of a what a rewards and recognition program is intended to do, we have the chance to explore more, expand more and offer more choice that can make our R&R programs more wildly successful than we ever dreamed!

How do we do it?

Ask your employees what they want and what they would like to see in the program

  • Send a temperature survey. Gauging your employees regularly will allow Stakeholders to quickly address changes in your employee needs. A good example of this is adding virtual gift cards which are designed to make their everyday simpler and safe. A virtual MasterCard as an example can be used for online shopping for things they would normally pay with cash.  The flexibility of these card products allows the employee the ability to shop online, pay bills online and can be a significant vehicle in times of need.  Or, maybe someone else would truly appreciate that voucher to a getaway that they can look forward to. Either way, engage with your team to gauge their input and where they place value.
  • Develop employee ambassador teams to support your rewards and recognition program. Empowering employees and allowing them to have their voices heard will increase participation level across the board. Learning what works or doesn’t work, saves time, resources and money so that all can be better allocated throughout the program. Employee ambassadors are the best internal champions of a program. And be sure to include executive leadership in the process. Having them be listening agents, as opposed to spearheading, helps employees feel valued, more eager to participate and also increases their exposure for future opportunities.

Initiate and support recognition of community service.

We are not out of the woods yet in terms of the pandemic and there are still plenty of people around us who need help. If your business is returning to a good place, that’s all the more motivation for stakeholders and employees to continue to help those around them. It’s almost like the flight instructions we are given to put on our oxygen mask first in order to better help the person next to us; your company may now have more stability to be able to continually support the surrounding community. Engage your employees to help, making the mindset of empathy and compassion a natural consequence by recognizing something important to them based on life, not just work.

  • Increase access to shared rewards programs so that your employees can transfer their rewards to recognize third-party recipients. For instance, with Madison-development platforms, organizations have the ability to customize their rewards storefronts to include selected charities or community programs deemed important by their teams. Many have implemented donation matching campaigns as well to increase the level of contribution on behalf of their teams. From a local perspective, stakeholders also work together with their teams to organize drives and support systems for individuals in the immediate surrounding community.
  • Reward and recognize for volunteerism. Making employees’ volunteer efforts a line item in your program makes it official. Milestone recognition for someone’s “outside” work becomes an example to the workforce; the positive feeling of helping others can quickly become contagious if the objectives are set in motion to do so.

 As we continue to feel the effects of the pandemic, stakeholders realize that expanding the rewards options given to their employees to work for the greater good is an instrumental component to an R&R program’s success and longevity.

            Related Read: Bridging CSR and R&R during a crisis

Continue to emphasize the recognition of Remote Workers and Independent Contractors

Companies within the last decade were seeing a double-digit rise in remote working, as well as a 22% increase in freelance professionals over last year. The onset of COVID-19 is projected to increase that growth even more. With these changes in workforce make-up, we are seeing a trend of decentralizing the home-base of a company. Traditionally, a central location has been essential to executing many functions of an employee rewards and recognition program – sometimes it’s easier to recognize and reward someone when they are down the hall from you. But things change, and have been changing, and thankfully stakeholders in the rewards and recognition space continue to anticipate those changes with innovative solutions – all to ensure that employees still feel valued no matter where they sit.

  • Evolving the R&R program to ensure that remote workers are not left out, and also to extend it to the non-traditional employees who contribute to the company are important aspects of continuing a compassionate, inclusive program.
  • Remember that rewards and recognition is not always about getting “something”; it’s also about how team members are treated with words and actions. And many remote workers may need that little bit of extra support or attention. Remote workers stepped up immensely, many having to completely upend their daily professional lives, working doubly hard for their companies while juggling the stress of home, health and what was happening around them; and studies show that many employees working from home feel more disconnected than ever. Understanding their needs in terms of scheduling, flexibility and the tools they need to perform their jobs can alleviate stress and create a more balanced and productive environment. Be mindful to not let the fatigue set in and maintain the practices of thanking them and recognizing them for sticking with you, through thick and thin.
  • Carving out and officially designating specific programs for workers that sit in different locations levies importance and attention to them as well, ensuring that they can’t be overlooked. Having remote workers (and all workers) create “wish-lists” can give necessary insight into what is important to them, but can also identify areas in their communities that need help that you might otherwise have not known about because of geographical distance.
  • Additionally, independent contractors played a crucial role, supporting company operations during economic uncertainty, without the added stability of a being a traditional employee. Bringing them into the fold and acknowledging their efforts increases brand loyalty and creates goodwill in the industry. For the same reasons above, showing thanks and appreciation to this group, one that has often been viewed as “outside” or temporary, creates a natural inclination to being compassionate.

Build a program that is not one-size fits all

In the latest White Swan podcast, Judd Weisgal summarized creating a rewards and recognition program that is inclusive to all by simply “allowing employees to bring their real selves to work and finding ways to reward that.” It’s a simple idea, but there are a multitude of ways to carry it out.

  • Foster environments that respect uniqueness, whether it be because of true, physical diversity or diversity in thinking. While we have been taught that respect is earned, we can also help facilitate respect by having clear company policies that underscore the type of environment we want to create, and recognize team members who welcome and champion those policies.
  • Recognize your employees individually for what they do with an understanding and compassion for their own unique circumstances, letting them know that you truly value them, not the homogenous workers they may have been treated like in the past. We have different interests, different strengths, different priorities – recognizing those on a personal level allows co-workers to broaden their understanding and appreciation of each other and even introduces them to new ideas and interests.
  • Beat the communication drum. As Weisgal noted, it can’t be stated enough, but clear communication of program goals and acknowledgement of said goals, is paramount to making sure everyone is included, the components are fair, and that the program is designed with the employee perspective in mind.

Repetition Forms Habits: Keep Doing What Was Working and Tweak to Improve

As stakeholders, continue to actively ask your team how they are feeling; seek out personal moments that you worked hard to acknowledge at the onset of the pandemic; legitimize programs that were drawn up to meet emergencies and make them official, like peer check-ins, health and wellness procedures, and dedicated celebration times. All of these actions may have been something that organizations put in place to manage the crisis in the moment. But they can also help to keep the emotions of empathy and compassion alive moving forward.

While It’s hard to demand empathy or compassion from anyone, if we lead by example, it can catch on quickly. After a challenging time, many people will evaluate their own circumstances to create more balance, in work and in life. An R&R program that is built to value this work-life balance for their teams by offering choice, recognizing their contributions to society beyond work, and being flexible with their working circumstances, especially in a remote environment, is bound for success.

At Madison, it’s not business as usual, but instead, we are focused on support. Supporting our invaluable customers by maintaining business continuity, sharing advice about new working models and providing an opportunity to connect with others. 

While you adjust to your new working routine – whether it be at home or part of an essential service - please join the conversation. Ask Madison is an opportunity to share ideas, ask questions and help create our ‘new normal’, together. We believe that employee recognition is an essential business function and that, now more than ever, it is our responsibility to celebrate each other, recognize every milestone and collaborate together—even though we may be sitting apart.

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