It’s estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause the loss of 1 million Texas jobs. In the thick of the coronavirus crisis, it’s hard to say what the ultimate toll for employers will be. One thing is for certain: The year 2020 will not be remembered fondly by most employers.
The Texas Association of Business (TAB) has been sending its member companies with fewer than 500 employees a weekly business barometer survey, which has shed some light on the situation here in the Lone Star State. As of early April, nearly 63% of businesses reported a decrease in revenue, with 52% reporting a severe impact on their operations. About 71% of companies have implemented work-from-home practices and 43% are in a hiring freeze. (To participate in the survey and receive the results as well as to gain access to TAB’s COVID-19 Business Resource Tool Kit, you need to become a member.)
What does this news tell us?
“You’re not alone. Whether your business has shut down completed or has pivoted to respond to changing needs, a significant number of employers are right there with you,” says The HT Group CEO and Founder Mark Turpin.
In this first month of COVID-19 shutdowns, we’ve seen four practices emerge that are helping employers reach the next phase of weathering the storm.
FILL LEADERSHIP GAPS NOW
No C-suite executive today has faced a pandemic crisis of this proportion. Ever. So to say that you need leadership with “experience” navigating today’s challenges is a farce. But to enlist the help of seasoned, expert leaders who fundamentally know how to handle a crisis is critical.
Business strategy professor and author Nathan Furr identifies several key approaches successful leaders take in times of uncertainty: They look for opportunities where others can’t imagine them and they don’t get hung up on binary win/lose scenarios, for instance. If your leaders can’t do that—or are too emotionally tied to the business to think clearly right now—you will have a problem moving forward. Maybe you were already searching for a CIO, CFO, or CHRO before COVID-19 hit. Perhaps the crisis exposed gaps in your leadership that are becoming glaringly apparent now. It may not be the time to commit to a permanent choice for your executive leadership, but don’t wait to fill the gap. Interim and fractional executives can fill key spots and help you navigate on a full-time, yet temporary, or part-time basis for as long as necessary.
When all is said and done, society will look back at this time and take stock in which employers took care of their staff. Hiring freezes, furloughs, and layoffs may be unavoidable. What you have better control over is how you communicate to your staff, and how seriously regard their health and safety.
Rules on the use of masks, temperature screenings, and other measures are rapidly changing and it’s important to stay up to date by checking with the agencies that regulate your industry. OSHA offers interim guidance for both workers and employers, which can be helpful even if your place of business doesn’t normally fall under OSHA jurisdiction. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers additional guidance and checklists, as do numerous other agencies and associations.
Then, communicate and support. Just like you, your staff is scared, overwhelmed, and confused. Caroline Valentine of Valentine HR penned this helpful blog post offering tips on how and what to communicate to them during this time. Your employees want to know what resources are available to them, including the coverage available through their medical and mental health benefits. They’re also concerned about work schedule changes, workplace safety, and what happens if they refuse to go to work or are asked to change the way they work.
“Rather than sending out multiple emails or links in a random manner, we advise pulling together the information into a FAQ document in a shared folder or portal that can be updated as needed,” she recommends.
PIVOT, RESKILL, DIVERSIFY
Did you know that the five best-selling beers in America are produced by brands that survived both Prohibition and the Great Depression? As this Mental Floss article explains, these brewers made it through selling a product that was, first, made illegal and then inaccessible for 25% of unemployed Americans with no income. They did it by diversifying.
“Brewers started running dairies, selling meat, and venturing out into other agricultural enterprises. Brewers were also allowed to make ‘near beer’ that had only trace amounts of alcohol…Breweries also started applying their expertise to non-alcoholic tipples like root beer,” the article points out.
These days, distillers are making hand sanitizer and selling groceries. Clothing brands are making cloth masks. Auto plants are prepping for ventilator production. And restaurant servers are learning the art of food prep and delivery (with those same restaurants suddenly needing seamless online commerce capabilities). It’s time to pivot and diversify, reskilling valued employees along the way, and hiring new talent—like website developers and production managers—with the expertise to help.
“These are the times when temporary staffing, temp-to-hire, and contract-to-hire can open doors that might have otherwise been slammed shut by hiring freezes and economic uncertainty,” Turpin explains. “Flexibility doesn’t need to come with long-term commitments. At the same time, though, you may be able to find talent now through a temp-to-hire or contract-to-hire arrangement who could become a permanent employee in the future.”
PLAN A WAY BACK TO BUSINESS
You may not have had much time to consider what’s next, but it’s worth your while. As the Wall Street Journal points out, reopening business will be “fragile, partial, and slow.”
“The re-emergence over the coming weeks and months will be…a bit dystopian, with frequent temperature checks, increased monitoring of employees and customers, and, potentially, blood tests to determine whether workers have likely immunity to the virus,” WSJ reports. That means alternating workdays for employees, plexiglass shields in the lunchrooms, and other measures that will require planning and budget allocations that you’ve never considered before.
And what about your furloughed workers? Those whose hours have been cut? A slow-and-steady return to work will need to be carefully weighed so that employment rights and regulations aren’t overlooked. A reputable staffing firm can help ease the burden by sharing that responsibility and guiding you in best practices.
“The good news is that Texas is among the first states to unveil efforts to reopen, which means Texas employers can expect more guidance and support than businesses in other states will get,” Turpin says. “This won’t last forever. Those who can adapt and make strategic hiring moves now will have a leg up when the job market is back on track.”