Keeping a Happy Workplace Through the Crisis

The Lockdown has been a crucial test for employers and a test of whether they care about their staff. At the beginning of the crisis a comment often made by CEOs I knew was “We want to be a Timpsons, not a Weatherspoons”.

(Timpsons, often listed in the great place to work lists, has had to close its shoe repair shops and furlough its workers but tops up the government’s 80% and took out a £50 million loan to ensure it could keep going with all its staff. Tim Weatherspoon, on the other hand, began the crisis by telling his pub staff that he couldn’t pay them and suggested they go and work for Tesco’s.)

This week we carried out our regular staff survey and I was slightly humbled by the response. We asked “How well has Happy supported you through the crisis?” Given a seven point scale, 11% responded “Good”, 28% “Excellent” and 61% said the top score, “Fantastic”.

So, what have we done? I don’t think anything I list below is rocket science. It’s just about working together and being there for your people.

Make clear you are on their side

Happy is principally a classroom training provider. So, as our people headed off to work at home, they knew we had just lost 85% of our income. People were worried.

We do have reserves and I calculated they would last 8 months at that level of income. So, we guaranteed our staff that everybody would stay employed for at least 6 months. That was our minimum commitment, to seek to make clear that we were on their side and to recognise that people do not work well when they are scared for their future.

That was before furlough was announced. For our furloughed staff we have made sure we are topping up the 20% so nobody is losing income.

Complete transparency

Happy has always made as much information available as possible, including salaries. We shared the state of the accounts and our projections. Our finance manager puts the bank balance on Yammer each week. That is a concrete reassurance of where we stand.

From the survey: “What I like? Support, transparency, involvement and genuine care for staff”

Check in on your people, don’t check up on them

Some people have found it difficult, especially those with kids, but there is no point in berating people. We trust our people and believe they will do what they can.

But we do check in through twice weekly Zoom staff meetings and very regular 1 to 1’s, finding out how people are doing, what’s tough, what they are up to.

From the survey: “how we’ve all unquestionably come together – we’re checking in with each other, and how forgiving we have been of one another when we have had moments of feeling very stressed out. We care about one another, it feels like a family (in a good way) :)”

Keep in touch – listen well

Our Managing Director Cathy Busani is especially good at this. Checking in, chatting about what its like, making sure people know we are there for them, listening well to what is being said and noticing what isn’t, and asking about that.

The key sorts of questions she has been asking our people are: how are you feeling, what’s been on your mind, what’s the story you are telling yourself about that, what else do you need? Giving them a safe place to be very honest, not judging anything said and not assuming anything.

Crucially, we remind our people how important they are to our business, how we know they are doing their best – even if it doesn’t always feel like it from their point of view – thanking them for their efforts and contributions.

Keep in touch with those on furlough too

We have 40% of our people on rotating furloughs. When one got back, she commented that while we had been in touch each week, her husband hadn’t heard from his company in 6 weeks.

When I posted on this in LinkedIn one person commented she’d been on furlough for 8 weeks and her boss hadn’t got in touch once, “and I’m his PA”. Why would you leave your people isolated like that?

Involve your people

We have continued to involve our people throughout. Even for furlough, for one of our teams we passed the decision to them on who should go when.

As we start to prepare to re-open at some point, it is crucial to involve everybody, to find who is happy to return (generally those not using the tube), what they need and how we can make it work.

From the survey: “What I like? Everyone having a chance to think things through”

No socials!

I heard from other CEOs on how they were holding evening quizzes and virtual pubs, and worried we weren’t doing enough. But when I put it to our staff meeting, they responded No. As one said “I’m an introvert. I’ve been zooming and using Teams all day. I just want to be with my partner.”

Trust your people

We’ve never really had everybody in the office. I remember once a visitor, seeing five staff in our training centre, asking where the others were. My response: “I have no idea”.

Now, even more than normal, it is a matter of trust. People need to know that they can step up and take responsibility and make things happen, without needing approval.

It’s still about coaching

The nearest we have to a manager role is what we call M&Ms (mentors and multipliers). We have always been clear that the role is to build confidence, ask questions and help people find their own solutions. That is even more the case now, where everybody has different issues.

I don’t claim that Happy is perfect. Many organisations will be using other approaches. But the key, in this time of crisis, is to genuinely be there for people – through this crisis – as much as we can.

What has your organisation done to ensure people feel valued and supported?

About the author – Henry Stewart:

Henry Stewart is Chief Happiness Officer at Happy. Contact him on or check him out on Twitter at @happyhenry

Happy’s next event is the 2018 Happy Workplaces Conference, which will take place on 21st June at Glaziers Hall in London. Join us for an inspiring day! You will hear from some of the world’s best workplaces including Google, the John Lewis Partnership and Kingfisher PLC – and will learn how to create this culture at your own workplace.

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