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Running a business is inherently stressful. But labor shortages, vaccine protocols and shifts to remote work may be taking that stress to new heights — especially for small-business owners managing these complexities in their workplaces.
Here are some ways two experts say small-business owners can ease that COVID-era decision-making anxiety.
1. Be consistent and document everything
Deciding to change workplace rules can be a nerve-racking move for many small-business owners, but putting things in writing can help.
“Document your discussions with the employees; document that they've got the information that explains to them what you're going to be doing and the deadline for them to comply,” says Beth De Lima, who is president and principal of HRM Consulting, Inc. in Murphys, California. Document that there are clear procedures, she adds. “And if you need to change them, you change them.”
2. Think local
Small-business owners who are worried about inadvertently falling out of compliance with COVID-related workplace rules should remember that federal regulations aren’t the only regulations to consider, especially if a business operates in different cities or states.
“You've got to look at the federal, state and local regulations, because there's not a one-size-fits-all [set of rules],” says Rocket Lawyer founder and CEO Charley Moore. “Each state can be different,” he adds. Rules in different cities can vary, too. For example, the rules in Dallas may be very different from the rules in San Francisco, Moore notes.
3. Designate a liaison
Many COVID-related decisions affect a broad cross-section of business functions, so it’s important to make one person responsible for talking to everybody who should have a voice in a particular decision, De Lima says.
“Have a dedicated person who is the liaison to communicate with the employee base,” she adds. “Not by department, not by supervisor — a dedicated voice for the company.”
4. Consider incentives
Many small businesses need workers and can’t afford to alienate the employees they already have when it comes to compliance. “It may make much more sense to use a carrot than a stick,” Moore says.
Moore says he’s seen a number of businesses do everything from providing paid time off to get vaccinated, to providing extra pay and bonuses for vaccinated staff.
5. Build safeguards
Insurance may help protect small businesses against some COVID-related employment claims, which can quell anxiety for some business owners, De Lima notes. Enlisting the help of professional employer organizations, or PEOs, can also help small-business owners manage HR matters that they don't have the time or expertise to handle. “But you still need to be involved and pay attention and be consistent,” she says.
6. Embrace flexibility and options
“We don't have to do business as usual. We haven't been. So why do we have to go back to that?” De Lima asks. Get managers involved, and ask for their suggestions, she adds.
“If you have employees who have been and want to continue to telecommute and are successful, do you really need to have them back?” she says. “Be flexible and rethink the workforce. This is a great opportunity. Don't miss it.”
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7. Remember what’s important
One of the best ways nervous small-business owners can tackle their decision-making fears about legal surprises, unexpected reactions or unintentional errors is to think about what’s best for key stakeholders, according to Moore.
“Put the well-being, health and safety of your customers first, then the well-being, health and safety of your team second,” Moore says. “That's it, and you'll probably end up making the right decision.”