As the economy starts to recover and employees return to the office, it’s tempting to sweep 2020 under the rug. But as a leader, you need to acknowledge that your employees had a tough year filled with loss of some kind—the death of loved ones, unemployed spouses, isolation from family, and/or increased caretaker duties at home. How can you help your employees as they transition into their new normal? Check In With Them Talk to your employees one-on-one. Yes, it’ll take time—but it’s the first step to understanding what they need. You might ask: \tWhat are their personal and professional concerns? \tAre they impacted by remote learning for their children? \tAre they in a caretaker role for children, elderly relatives, or ill family members? \tDo they have workplace safety concerns? \tDo they have concerns getting to and from work (e.g., public transit)? \tWhat do they need from the company and their teammates to feel supported? Promote Self-Care You can support your employees' mental health by encouraging self-care. Self-care in the workplace includes: \tEncouraging the use of vacation time—without hidden punishment in the form of special projects being assigned to employees who are always available. \tClearly documenting expectations for “disconnect” behavior (e.g., no need to respond to emails after hours) to reduce burnout from being always “on.” \tOffering wellness programs geared toward self-care. If you don’t have an internal program, consider offering what you can—a lunchtime yoga class or a curated list of online mediation tools. Provide Mental Health Support Mental health issues have increased during the past year. Your employees (or their families) could be experiencing the direct impact of COVID-19-induced brain fog. Or they may have substance abuse issues, anxiety, depression, or OCD behaviors triggered by pandemic-related events. If you offer mental health coverage, shout it from the rooftops. Let your employees know what the plan covers and emphasize that the choice to utilize mental health services is confidential. If you don’t provide coverage, advertise other local free or low-cost mental health services. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are often under-utilized. If you have an EAP, help your employees to understand how they can use it. Train your management team to recognize the signs of mental illness. Early intervention and guidance can protect team productivity and morale—and it's morally the right thing to do for your employees. (Over-)Communicate Talk. Email. Broadcast in every internal Slack channel. Send out carrier pigeons with messages if necessary. Do whatever it takes to communicate everything to your employees. Use all your communication channels to inform your employees of successes and new or modified work policies. Celebrate the Wins It’s been a year of losses, so celebrate what went right. Now is the time to highlight feel-good stories. Did your business discover a new customer market during the pandemic? Did that “someday” digital project get completed ahead of time? Did your employees transition (mostly) seamlessly to a remote work environment overnight? Without a doubt, the last year has highlighted some unexpected strengths in your employees. Celebrate those as wins, too. Career Paths Unemployment impacted many people this year. Workers who kept their jobs experienced monumental shifts in their roles, from mandatory PPE usage to rapid workplace changes to using new technology for daily business processes. Your employees may need an “upskill” pathway to teach them new processes and tools. As you develop those training programs, consider what a career path within your company now looks like. What should your employees focus on to help the company’s mission and protect their future career: technology skills, soft skills like adaptability, or some combination of both? You may also need to alter your performance review process to reflect new roles or changes in workplace location or hours. Metrics that measure the "old" style of work (e.g., “consistently arrives at work on time”) won't help anyone when performance evaluation time comes. Workplace Changes Communicate physical workplace changes, including: \tCleaning protocols \tModifications to meet CDC guidelines (e.g., plexiglass installations, one-way aisles, new break room rules) \tFor hybrid work models, when are employees required to be in the office or hub? \tIf coworking space is available, how does an employee book time for meetings or individual work time? Acknowledge Your Remote Team Don’t let your remote team members fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Support remote employees by: \tTraining employees on how to create and maintain remote work relationships. \tOffering virtual happy hours or coffee breaks to eliminate isolation issues. \tSupporting your less tech-savvy employees with a go-to technology mentor \tProviding the right equipment for their home offices. Buying remote employees a standing desk, for example, can go a long way to making them feel valued. You and your employees have demonstrated resilience, adaptability, and teamwork during this pandemic. Embrace that resilience—and take steps to support your team as everyone moves past the pandemic into a new year of business success.