Focussing on Employee Wellbeing during Lockdown

Following on from last week’s blog about focussing on what we can control, I want to continue with that focus but make it more specific about Employee Wellbeing, and what we can do to help at this time. I’m going to use the other business I co-own (Zaks ) as the lens for this. 

As a bit of background, in case you do not know the story, Zaks is an iconic local American Diner chain in Norwich. It’s been going since 1976. My co-owner Chris and I both have a long association with the brand, having looked after it in our days at Blue Sky Leisure. In January this year, we acquired the brand and all three restaurants it operates. I know, timing right? I’m not going to go into the business end of Covid-19 impact, other than saying as we were closed early in this process, all 100 of the team were furloughed very early on. Today I want to focus on them and how we are and have made sure of their wellbeing.  So this blog is focussed on furloughed employees, but most of the points equally apply to employees who may be working from home. I’ve split what we have been doing into five key headings:

1. Culture

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” 

Peter Drucker

I’ve started with this, because in my opinion, without getting this right, quite frankly, anything you try and do on the other 4 will be like p**sing in the wind. We inherited the brand when, perhaps this wasn’t at its highest, but quickly worked hard to get it back on track. This was aided by the goodwill in the bank with many of the long standing team members who knew us of old. But even at Poringland, where I personally only knew 3 of the team, we quickly developed a culture based on honesty and trust. This made it easy to talk about furloughing, because the team knew we had their best interests at heart. I know others that have spent a lot of money on legal fees to get their furlough process right. I’m not saying don’t do this, and I am also not saying we cut corners, we did our research, thoroughly. But what I’m saying is if you have a culture based on honesty and trust, your team is perhaps not looking to find things wrong with the process.  

Chris and I have also been using the downtime to completely revisit the purpose and values of the business, a process we are still working on.

2. Communication This is vital anytime, but particularly right now. Again, without it, don’t even think about focussing on wellbeing steps and tools. A regular check-in to make sure someone is OK is much more valuable than an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme). 

At Zaks, we quickly made sure we got this sorted. The majority of our employees joined our private Facebook Community, where Chris and I have gone live at least once a week with a two way dialogue, letting them know what we have been doing, what our view of the government policy impact is, and making sure everybody can ask questions and that 100% of them get answered. A few weeks in and those lives if anything are getting better views than the first ones. We also have a Whatsapp group running that I’ll cover in 3, but this has also helped us keep communication up. Each of our discrete teams also has their own group. We’ve also made sure those who don’t have access to tech are not excluded. We’ve shared things like new menu designs, updates on furlough, cool designs for our truck and restaurant refurbishment plans and work.

3. Training Now is an ideal time to make sure your team is properly trained. To that end we have made a 5 figure investment in an e-learning platform to cover our technical training. Under furlough rules this is specifically allowed, as long as minimum wage provisions are met. We had no hesitation in providing that top up where required to the team. The platform went live a week ago and we’ve already issued over 85 certificates, with 38 hours of CPD time and over 50% of the team engaged so far, with one team member completing all 10 courses she was allocated in just one day. Not only is this great for business when we return, especially the Infection Control one, it’s given the team a sense of purpose and value. 

4. Having Fun This has been so important in these times. We have had such a laugh. In the first Facebook live event that didn't have to be that serious, Chris and I arrived on screen in Tiger King masks. We’ve maintained this humour and encouraged the team to get involved. This has resulted in one team member arranging a Zaks, Through the keyhole special and a name the baby competition. Another has organised a mammoth Zaks Lockdown Olympics that has been running for a few weeks now via WhatsApp. He has had the team doing all sorts. It’s all been taken in great spirit and gave the team a chance to engage with each other everyday. 

Here's a few images from the group!


5. Looking after the teams wellbeing specifically With 1-4 in check we can address the specific wellbeing needs of our team members in relation to their physical, mental, emotional and financial health. The first thing we did was of course listen and make ourselves available to those who might have needed us. We also reached out when we could see people were struggling. From a financial perspective, we arranged and offered our teams temporary roles in other organisations to supplement their reduced furlough income.  

And Finally, through, we offered 100% of the team access to our 10-week Covid-19 specific programme . A large percentage have taken this up and are getting the benefits of a short daily activity focussing on helping them.  

I’ve seen lots of other great examples of employers getting things right, so I know we are not alone in our endeavours, but what I do know is that those employers who put the effort in at this time will get their endeavours rewarded by a fiercely loyal team at the end of all this. Those that do not, may not be around in the longer term.

Ian Hacon, Founder and Co-owner of Zaks

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