Franchise companies – like most others – had to make adjustments not just to their business priorities, but to the way they physically work as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country and we entered a lockdown. Many employees found themselves suddenly forced to work from home whether or not they had the tools and support to do so. And employers needed them to be fully engaged and productive, more than ever, as business plans were scrapped and companies scrambled to figure out next steps.

Although the country is beginning to reopen, the pandemic is not going away. As the realization sets in that we are in this for the long-haul, feelings of isolation, stress, and uncertainty are taking a long-term toll. Parents, especially working mothers, have been hit especially hard. An article published by HR Dive cited a study by the Mom Project that showed women reported a much more negative working experience than their male counterparts during the pandemic and were nearly twice as likely as men to report plans to leave their jobs within the next year.

So what can franchise companies do to keep employees engaged while the workplace and workspace continue to evolve? Some companies, like Chipotle, have expanded benefits, such as unlimited PTO and parental leave, for corporate and store employees. Others are looking at innovative work-from-home perks. Beyond evaluating benefits offered, there are four things franchise organizations should be doing for their employees to increase engagement in the COVID-19 world.

How to Keep Franchise Employees Engaged

1. Examine your company culture. With workplaces turned upside down by the pandemic, a positive or negative company culture – or simply lack of defined culture – can become glaringly obvious. In this post, we talk about some of the ways you can maintain and rebuild company culture during and post-Covid. But more importantly, make sure you know what your core values are – and your employees do, too. The core values are the foundation of your culture. They define what you stand for and serve as guideposts for everyone in the organization. They are the heart of your company, and in times of uncertainty, it’s even more important for leaders to model them to keep employees engaged.

If it feels as if employees aren’t engaged, have you clearly communicated your values? Are leaders and managers “walking the talk”? Do you even have them formally defined? If you don’t, or you feel like your culture and values are not effective, start with The CEO’s Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Positive Culture in Franchising.

2. Be transparent. We keep saying it, everyone keeps saying it…these are uncertain times. Uncertainty is stressful. People are uncertain if they’ll get sick, if schools will reopen, if it’s safe to return to the office, if they’ll be financially secure. We can’t predict what the future will look like as we make our way through this pandemic, but what you can do is be as transparent as possible about the state of the business and how you’re managing the effects. Give frequent updates and be realistic. If employees feel like you’re keeping them in the dark or painting an unrealistic picture, it can breed distrust and disengagement.

3. Trust your employees. Many businesses were forced to switch to remote working with little transition time. Add in the fact that many employees are working remotely with the added stress of partners, kids or parents at home, and it can be easy to start worrying that productivity is going to tank. And it might sometimes. But instead of trying to document hours or track time online, which will just make employees resentful, trust them to get the work done. Engaged employees have an emotional connection to the company and want it to be successful, and they will do what they need to do to contribute to moving it forward.

4. Ask for feedback. Giving employees a greater voice is probably the most important thing you can do right now. Most companies do one employee survey a year, if that, but now’s the time to double down. When you give employees a chance to weigh in on how leadership and management are dealing with the crisis, decisions being made about the future, how you can best support them, and what challenges they’re facing, they are likely to be loyal and supportive of you in return. In fact, we’ve been working with many of our clients to send short pulse surveys to check in with employees and show their support and willingness to listen with positive results.

In the best of times, engaged employees can be brand advocates, innovators and thought leaders. In a time of crisis, they can be the glue that helps a business survive. If you want your employees to be engaged, they need to feel safe and secure to be able to do their jobs. By creating and communicating a culture of empathy, caring and trust, employees will be more invested in the success of the organization. While times are tough for many businesses, the pandemic has created an opportunity for leadership to focus on their people, and when we turn the corner, hopefully be stronger and more resilient than ever.

Franchise Business Review is here to help you build employee engagement. We can survey your employees and show you how you can use the resulting data and feedback to identify where you’re succeeding and where you can improve to ensure your employees feel supported and remain invested in the success of your organization. Contact us to learn more.