The COVID-19 pandemic has had widespread consequences for what employment looks like in Australia right now, with the hospitality industry being one of the hardest hit. As such, staff morale can be particularly low in any business. We take a look at how various companies are keeping spirits up among their personnel.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that in the seven-week period between 14 March and 2 May, the accommodation and food services sector has seen a 27.1% loss in jobs – one of the worst hit sectors in the country due to the shutdown. For staff that still retain employment, very few remain totally unaffected. Most people have seen their hours reduced, their tasks changed, or have been asked to use their leave entitlements while the need for labour remains low. As such, employee morale has taken a big hit.

So how are businesses keeping their employees engaged?

At Kaddy, co-founder Rich Coombes says that communication is the key. The team uses apps like Slack and Zoom, with daily Zoom meetings at 10am to check in with everyone and how they are coping with their workload. Two o’clock catch-ups and Friday afternoon drinks also offer a virtual ‘water-cooler’ moment, to take part in some non-work-related banter and blow off some steam. Knowing this would be a testing time for mental health, the Kaddy team were also gifted with vouchers to go towards their wellbeing.

“We gave the team $100 each to spend on their own wellbeing. Some of this expenditure was put toward apps like Audible, Headspace and Calm or training aids such as TRX,” said Coombes.

“We also gave our team $100 each to spend on booze, and was nice to see this all being spent with local businesses”

Getting behind a pivoting business model

At Archie Rose, the company quickly pivoted from distilling spirits, to producing hand sanitiser as demand surged. Since 23 March, Archie Rose had produced more than 100,000 units of hand sanitiser. The upshot of the pivot was that it allowed the company to retain its staff and hire a few more hospitality workers. Even with a change in output, this kept the staff positive and engaged.

“This pivot to hand sanitiser production has allowed us to save around 25 hospitality jobs as we moved our bar team to the packaging line (alongside 12 new recruits). This has been a massive morale boost internally as our team feels valued and it really shows how important each person is to the Archie Rose team,” explained Ami Robertson, trade and events marketing manager.

For those businesses that have had to stand down employees, keeping personnel engaged with business plans lets them know that they are a part of the team, and there is a future for them within the company.

At Brix Distillers – which includes an on-premise trading component – many staff were made redundant. However Damien Barrow, co-founder and general manager said that he was eagerly waiting for the day when staff could return to the business.

“There were a number of redundancies we had to make over the period which were terribly difficult for any growing business. Our staff have all invested a lot of time and energy into building the business to where it is, and they are an integral part of moving forward. As soon as the lights come back on and people come out to play, we will be engaging those employees who haven’t already run away to a tropical island to live happily ever after.”

In the meantime, Brix Distillers has also begun producing hand sanitiser, as well as spent time on NPDs, collaborations and converting its venue into a takeaway corner store selling alcohol and other everyday items that it had access to via its wholesaler network. It’s also taken the time to assess what the business and its team should focus on in the future.

“The silver lining to a reduced trading environment is that after a whirlwind 1.5 years of trading, we identified a number of areas of the business that we wanted to focus on and it has allowed us an amazing opportunity to revise and refine a few things that put us in an incredibly strong position emerging out the other side. We are excited.”

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