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The last couple of months have been unprecedented. The effect of Covid-19 has been universal and we have all found ourselves floundering, wondering what on earth is going on and what has happened to our ‘normality’. The crisis seems to have brought out the best and the worst in people – and in employers. Some have gone above and beyond in seeking to offer their support to people around them, while others haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory.

The Winners:

The Co-op has recruited 5,000 extra store workers to cope with increased demand, offering temporary employment to hospitality workers who have lost their jobs. They’ve also given a £20 weekly voucher to the 6,500 pupils at 25 Co-op Academy schools who receive free school meals while schools remain shut.

Timpson, the shoe repairers and key-cutters has kept its 5,500 employees on full pay while its shops remain closed.

Aldi will pay a 10% bonus to its store and distribution employees to thank them for all their hard work throughout the pandemic.

The Losers:

EasyJet initially asked all their pilots and cabin crew to take three months’ unpaid leave and accept a pay freeze. The airline then proceeded with a £175 million dividend pay-out to shareholders………

Hundreds of residents in Travelodge hotels, including homeless families housed there by local councils, were turned out on to the streets after the budget hotel chain closed its premises. Letters were issued to all residents asking them to leave as soon as possible, apparently in defiance of government guidance, which said that hotels looking after homeless families in temporary accommodation should not close………….

So, how can you put yourself in the winners’ category? After all, employee engagement surveys remind us that it’s not just how you treat your people directly that makes them feel valued. The way you treat your customers and your community have a significant effect on the pride people feel – or otherwise – about their employer. In these unprecedented times, you may have employees who are working for you in different ways – some working in their usual work place, some working from home and some who are furloughed. Some employees may have even done a combination of all three in recent weeks. All have their challenges. The companies who look after their staff during these challenging times will surely see that this pays dividends when it comes to employee engagement and talent retention in the future.

Put your people first, before anything and everything else. Get to know them as individuals. Think of them as whole people with lives outside of work, not just as your employees. Without them, you are nothing.

Communicate proactively. Not just business-related information but fun things too that bring people together on a personal level and boost morale. Technology is our friend and many companies now hold regular team calls where they do discuss work, but also virtual coffee and chat mornings and Friday afternoon Zoom quizzes (with drinks). How can you include those who are furloughed and out of the loop? Remember that communication is a two-way process. Don’t just talk; listen too.

Promote training and development opportunities and encourage challenge. Many people are motivated just by feeling that they are learning and progressing. This may be particularly important to employees who have been furloughed and can’t actually do their job at present.

Encourage staff to look after themselves, take regular breaks and spend time on their passions. Help them to balance work and life. Homeworkers often put in far more hours than when they are working in an office and risk burn out. Remember mental health is as important as physical health and many people have struggled to adapt to lockdown in different ways. Do you have an EAP? If not, there are downloadable mindfulness sessions and free self-care webinars. Even just checking in regularly and asking how people are feeling – and taking a genuine interest in their answers – may be enough to make a difference.

Show your appreciation. Recognition can be either free or very inexpensive. You will be relying on your employees to ‘go the extra mile’ for you but what are you doing for them? How often have you said thank you recently? Many online companies are struggling and still need your business, so a bottle of wine, a food hamper or voucher is still easily accessible without you leaving the comfort of your home office/armchair/sun lounger.

Allow flexibility where you can. Does everyone need to work standard office hours when they’re working from home? As long as the work gets done, does it matter whether they take 2 hours off in the afternoon to help their children with their school work or chat to an elderly, lonely or vulnerable parent they need to keep an eye on or if they want to offer their services as a volunteer in the community? Keep an eye on output and care less about working hours.

There isn’t a magic answer and talent retention is multi-faceted but, fundamentally, people tend to stay in a job if they feel challenged, supported and aligned to the company and its goals. This crisis will end and you will want an engaged team when it does. Why would you want to be one of the losers?


Author: Rosemary Darby-Jenkins, Director, Signpost HR Solutions | [email protected]

Rosemary has over 30 years’ experience in HR for the private and public sector and now runs her own Dorset-based consultancy. She and her team specialise in employee relations, change management, HR strategy, organisational development and reward and job evaluation.


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