I admit, it’s not easy to find things to be grateful for this year. At this writing, nearly a million and a half people around the world are dead of Covid-19, and the number is steadily rising—especially here in the United States, where over a quarter of a million people have died. Schools are closed, unemployment has skyrocketed, and many of those businesses that have survived so far are not at all sure if they’ll make it. People are giving up their holiday traditions, reinventing Thanksgiving to suit a small nuclear family, a couple, or a party of one. And most everyone is either glued to the news or resolutely avoiding it, as we wait to see what shoe will drop, when, during the most chaotic post-election period in history.
Meanwhile, since much of my work has always revolved around what makes a great employer—or doesn’t—I’ve been keeping a close eye on what this wild ride of a year has done to workers. Sadly, what I’ve been hearing is not always heartening. From staff who are put in danger for no good reason to those who are laid off simply for trying to be employees, parents, and teachers simultaneously, too many stories reveal employers who have put their profits before their people, to the predictable detriment of both.
Nonetheless, ‘tis the season to seek out gratitude where we can, and I’m happy to be able to report that there are some work-related things to be thankful for. I’m thankful for the way many employers have, in fact, risen to the occasion, treating their employees thoughtfully and generously; supporting their physical, emotional, and fiscal health; saving jobs and in some cases undoubtedly saving lives. Many have also looked beyond their own workforces to support both their local and global communities. Here are just a few examples:
Companies who are making sure employees have the financial support they may need: As early as last March, the tech company Micron not only started a multi-million relief fund for communities around the world, but handed out $1,000 grants to each of the 68% of employees who earn less than $100,000. Electronics design company Cadence not only continued paying both employees and contractors throughout a spring shutdown but provided a stipend to cover work-from-home expenses and child and elder-care related needs. Retail giant Target gave everyone on staff a temporary pay raise, and introduced a 30-day paid leave for older or more vulnerable employees. Companies like Darden and Instacart, which didn’t formerly offer sick pay to all employees (shame on them!) have, to their credit, extended sick pay to all.
Companies doing what they can to reduce or eliminate layoffs: As the economy pitched downward, companies as big as American Express, Bank of America, and Citigroup—and as small as Radio Flyer— announced new no-layoff policies. Others took steps to limit the possibility of layoffs: Delta’s CEO announced he would forgo his salary for the year, and at Conde Nast salaries for all employees making over $100,000 were cut by 10-20%. In an interesting twist on corporate citizenship, the supermarket chain Wegman’s offered job opportunities to employees furloughed by fellow companies on Fortune’s “Great Places to Work” list.
Companies supporting their employee-parents: PWC, the big-4 accounting firm, beefed up a range of policies to support parents, including part-time, flex-time, compressed work week and sabbatical options; “protected time” (when employees can request not to be disturbed as they attend to kid’s needs); and a $2,000 reimbursement for back-up child care. The manufacturing company W.L. Gore offered employees eight weeks of additional paid leave when schools closed. The small tech company, Button, gave parents a monthly stipend to pay for things every family needs—like take-out and Disney Plus. And the law firm Alston & Bird introduced a parent support group, led by a licensed psychologist.
Companies working to prevent burnout and support mental health: Many of us are unusually stressed this year, and working from home while balancing myriad other responsibilities has added up to a lot of burnout. The best companies are addressing this, with everything from the “good news Friday” memos sent out each week to employees of the Seattle based construction company, McKinstry, to self-care days proffered by PR firm Gebben Communications, to the “Dosh Days” (Fridays when no work is allowed!) which the CEO of Dosh regularly springs on employees. Starbucks, PwC, and SoFi are offering free counseling or well-being coaching sessions to employees. Other companies, including Uipath and Kaiser Permanente, are providing employees with free subscriptions to meditation apps like Headspace and Calm.
Companies doing what they can to keep everybody safe: For most office workers, keeping safe this year meant working from home, and it is impressive how quickly many companies moved their workforces off-site last March. Many are finding the arrangement so congenial they intend to keep it that way. It’s frankly harder to find concrete examples of companies who’ve done a great job keeping retail and other frontline workers safe, though at least some have tried. Frontline medical workers get more attention: Ohiohealth is offering free childcare and hotel rooms to its healthcare workers, and both Hilton and Marriott are donating hotel rooms to millions of other frontline medical workers.
Companies looking outward: Companies of all sizes have jumped at the chance to prove they care for their communities, donating everything from medical supplies to food to straight-up cash. Many companies, like Anheuser-Busch and Gap, are turning their manufacturing might to producing hand sanitizer and protective gear. Some donate in ways they know best—Audible is offering hundreds of free audiobooks to school kids. Others just come up with a plan and run with it: Cisco worked with Bright Horizons to open child care centers for the children of frontline healthcare workers. Many have ramped up corporate matching gift programs or, like Ford Motor Company, refitted employee volunteer programs for a virtual age.
By now it is clear that 2020 will have a special place in the history books. Whether individual employers will turn out to be famous for the way they handled it, or notorious for the way they didn’t, is still far from certain; for now, I’m just going to be grateful for those that have tried.
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