Sept. 30 2020 06:00 AM

Your first job as boss is continued employee motivation and connection.

A year most of us have thought we’d never live has dragged on through a long, hot, masked-covered summer — and is now heading into the holiday season.

Halloween? Likely canceled. What a mean trick! Few will go door to door, taking candy from unknown sources. Thanksgiving? Only close family around the table, and grandparents will likely stay home alone.

What about Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s and all that? This 2020 holiday season is all wrapped up in masks instead of ribbons and bows. It will be quiet at the malls, with no caroling. Church services will likely be socially distanced or even virtual, and shopping will be courtesy of Amazon. The reality of this year’s holidays will be far from Norman Rockwell Christmas imagery.

In what was already a difficult COVID-19 burnout year, we’re now challenged with leading our employees into the holidays, a time often known for anxiety and depression as much as warm, heartfelt cheer.

And this pandemic year, our extremely hard-working employees have first struggled through a truly physically and emotionally taxing time to now face the additional stresses the holidays can sometimes bring.

Your staff may have spouses or mates who’ve lost their jobs. Many may be strapped for cash. Some may have faced evictions, perhaps lost their transportation. Maybe they can’t arrange for distance-learning for their kids as their mates have to work while schools are physically closed.

I’m certain that whatever anxieties you and I have faced as owners or managers, our employees have felt as least as much and likely far more. They are far closer to “hand-to-mouth.” Economic and work disruptions hit immediately and hard. And more and more, there’s less talk of extended economic assistance for those who’ve been COVID-tossed out of work.

I paint a dire picture that I hope I’ve overshot. But overshot or not, COVID-19 anxiety and burnout is real; the economic hurt is real, and holiday emotions will compound on top of all this. Likely, some of this is already happening to your people, your most important assets. The people who make up the very lifeblood of your company may be under significant duress.

Facing a COVID-driven recession, you might be worried about keeping up revenue. Perhaps slowing cash flow has grabbed you by the throat. Yet, while all these are important, your employee enthusiasm, energy and attitude are what’s going to make it or break it for you in getting through this pandemic recession and out financially healthy to the other side.

Anxious employees react poorly to customer concerns or complaints. Depressed ones push away coworkers and clients. Sick ones cause production and profit loss. During these upcoming holidays and however long COVID-19 continues, your first job as boss is continued employee motivation and connection. This is tough stuff when we’re socially distanced and close communication is impaired. But no matter what, the yoke of employee motivation remains on your neck and on the necks of your leadership team.

Knowing that your people may be facing increased stress or increased economic hardships — what precisely are you going to do about it?

Despite whatever hardships our companies may be facing, this is a year to be more generous than not. More thoughtful than before. More kind. A frozen turkey may have sufficed as “Christmas spirit” in the past, but a chilled bird won’t cut it if the gas has been turned off or a spouse has lost a job.

Raises might be tough, but can you squeeze meaningful bonuses? Personal visits might be off-limits, but can you find time to write gracious letters to each of your staff? Can you have your leadership do the same for their own reports? Can you chart out your path forward for the next two, three years, and share this with your whole team, creating a sense of security during insecure times?

Of all years gone by, this is the holiday season to lead thoughtfully, communicatively, personally and generously. Your “most important assets” will surely appreciate all your best efforts.

We’re often known for our leadership when times are toughest for our employees. ‘Tis the season to lead — with a heart.

Gary Horton, MBA, is CEO of Landscape Development Inc., a green industry leader for over 35 years with offices throughout California and Nevada. He can be reached at ghorton@landscapedevelopment.com.