How to Keep Employees Happy During COVID-19

Employers have a lot to juggle these days and so do employees! The landscape for employers, employees, job-seekers and everyone in between has gotten difficult to traverse. COVID-19 has forced us into an unknown landscape, with treacherous pitfalls, dangerous altitudes and challenging terrain but for those who can navigate it-- there may be a beautiful sight to behold at the end of the journey.

So what has actually changed? And what does it mean?

A lot has changed, and it has big implications for every facet of the professional world.

Employers will need to be more competitive with their offerings to employees (both new and existing), more intentional about company culture and they will need to focus on the human side of things as we consider a return to the office.

Employers are on the hunt for new employees but the power dynamic has changed considerably. Where employers used to have their pick of the litter, often employees now have the power to choose where they’d like to end up. There simply aren’t enough qualified candidates for the roles that employers need to fill. That makes attracting the right people and retaining the workers that you already have, very important.

But that can sometimes be easier said than done. We talked with Townley Goldsmith-Ray, director of the Richmond chapter of SHRM (Society of Human Resources Management), about how COVID-19 wreaked havoc on systems in place and also how the fallout from COVID-19 has allowed us to reevaluate those systems and decide whether they still make sense. Goldsmith-Ray has just become the Executive Director of Richmond’s SHRM chapter, but she’s been involved for much longer, serving over four years on the staff. She outlined a couple of key themes that she’s seen as COVID has progressed.


She says employers need to be competitive in what they offer to prospective employees. Employers will have to be competitive if they want to attract top talent. But what does this mean in practice?

“Employers need to be flexible in what they offer, to consider the human side of business. Businesses are still focused on bottom lines. But I think [the pandemic] has caused individuals to reflect personally on family, friends and community…What I’m hearing and what I’m seeing is that employers now realize that life is a big part of their employees' work. So, being able to just keep their eyes open a little more with empathy has certainly helped.”

Though employers will have to start getting more competitive in what they offer to attract new talent, Goldsmith-Ray warns that this could be a double-edged sword.

“We can’t offer new talent this really sexy package and not give it to the folks who have been with us for 10 years and who are in the exact same role… If we’re going to pull out all the bells and whistles for person X who is in a different state to come and work for our company, we’ve got to pull out all the bells and whistles for someone who is doing the exact same thing.”


Company culture is another area that has been impacted by COVID-19. How do companies build culture when often everything is happening behind a screen. Companies must not only preserve a strong culture that makes current employees proud to work for you, but also grow that culture to attract candidates going forward. .

Goldsmith-Ray has noticed a shift in the way companies are communicating with their employees and she thinks it could have a lot to do with fostering a strong culture.

“...The messages from an organization’s leadership, in the beginning of the pandemic were more about ‘what we’re doing to stay safe’ or ‘here’s what we’re doing as a company’ or ‘here’s our status’-- now it’s more about communicating about the culture, checking in on people.”

While the water cooler is no longer in the picture, Goldsmith-Ray says that hasn’t stopped companies from seeking that water cooler moment. Check-ins are happening more frequently, to allow more space for those kinds of conversations to be had.


COVID-19 was hard on a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons. And while many rejoice at the thought of returning to an in-person work environment, it may not be that simple for some. There are numerous reasons why a return to work may not feel comfortable for your employees. If you can, try and listen to what your employees want! Do they want a full return to the office, would they be more comfortable doing a hybrid schedule? Or is their job one that can be done remotely? Of course, depending on their job function you may not be able to accommodate a request but just listening to your employees and showing them you care can make a difference.

“...How do we make sure when we are encouraging folks to come back into an office setting that our physical space is accessible, that they aren’t having to struggle and be stressed out… All of these challenges that workers may have in a traditional setting that they may not have had to worry about in a remote setting. So how do we make sure to focus on improving our culture so that when folks do return, they feel comfortable and empowered and proud.”

So where’s the light at the end of the tunnel I promised? It’s all throughout this piece. At first glance, the pandemic’s effect on the workforce was destructive. And while that may be true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a bad thing. COVID-19 has brought to the fore the human side of business. It has forced employers to think more about the well-being of their employees, which is certainly not a bad thing.  Companies who show their employees that they care on a more human level will win out in efforts to attract and retain employees in 2021.

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