Recently, a fellow business owner and friend of mine died of a heart attack. His death was sudden and tragic, and while the exact cause is unknown, it made me realize something all business owners should be thinking about now: This is not the time to be prioritizing business over health.
If you run a business, you need to acknowledge that your health and the health of your staff must come first during this coronavirus crisis, regardless of your circumstances. Otherwise, you risk putting lives at stake, and, despite what some politicians say, no amount of money, growth, valuation, or GDP is worth a human life.
Remember your humanity
Close to 17 million people have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks alone. A third of employees are unable to pay their rent. This financial instability places a huge amount of stress on individuals, stress that we know severely impacts physical, mental, and emotional health. While new reports of coronavirus cases and deaths dominate the news cycle, we’re seeing another, even more brutal public health crisis emerge that will take even longer to contain.
As a business owner, I know how easy it is to lose focus in a crisis. In the past decade, I’ve come close to losing my business twice, and in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, our revenue is down more than 50%. Friends, colleagues, and mentors have recommended layoffs as our best course of action, arguing that if our business goes under all my employees will be out of a job. It’s a common argument, but one I find problematic for several reasons.
First, your employees are not expenses. They are human beings whose lives have inherent value. By choosing to lay them off to save your business, you’re essentially saying that your business is more important than their livelihood. When you pause for even a second to think about this, you realize it’s not true. We’ve just become so conditioned to justify inhumane practices for the sake of business.
Second, deprioritizing the well-being of your people upholds an inherently unfair system. We live in a world that undervalues the majority of society for the benefit of very few people. At some point, if you want to change the system, you have to behave differently. I personally would rather see my business fail knowing I did everything I could to protect my team than succumb to greed and fear at their expense.
Communicate that you care
There are several ways to communicate your priorities to your people:
- . Tell them: If you haven’t already done so, reach out to all of your employees right now and tell them that your No. 1 priority is their health and well-being. Let them know that your definition of health is the broadest one possible and includes mental and emotional as well as physical well-being. Demonstrate your commitment by checking in with them, asking how they’re doing, and giving them the time and resources they need to take care of themselves.
- . Give them time off: If you don’t already have a comprehensive paid sick leave policy, work with your HR team to develop one now. Tell your employees that they can and should take as much time as they need to tend to their health and the health of loved ones without having to worry about whether they will be paid. At my company, we have an open, paid-time-off policy, so employees can work directly with their managers to take as much time as they need.
- . Clarify benefits: Make sure your employees know all of the benefits they’re entitled to under your insurance or other policies. What testing does your insurance plan cover? What’s covered if they end up in the hospital? People are often so stressed about the financial costs associated with healthcare that they may delay treatment or inadvertently worsen their condition by stressing their bodies. Simply providing them information and resources can help assuage some of those fears.
- . Look beyond physical health: What mental health benefits does your insurance plan cover? Can employees access teletherapy services, either through insurance or another program? If your insurance doesn’t cover mental health, consider signing up for a paid program like Modern Health (which our company uses) that offers access to counselors and other tools.
- . Demonstrate by doing: Employees often hesitate to take time off if they think they’ll be penalized for it. Make sure you and your managers are walking the walk by not working when sick and taking time to do things away from work. I’ve been working eighteen-hour days for several weeks, but last week I posted a video on social media of me taking a day off to ski. We are all human. We all need to take time to do things we love and recharge. Show that this is a priority for you through your actions.
I know times are difficult right now, and having to worry about other people on top of everything else can feel impossible. But, trust me, when you look back on this, you will feel better prioritizing humanity over profit and you will have done your part to make our society a little more human, too.