The Secret to Building a Stronger Company Culture Than Ever During COVID

Even though employers have stepped up during the pandemic, it’s clear that this moment demands even more empathy and care.

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COVID-19 has revealed countless urgent needs all around us. An urgent need for safety and good health. An urgent need for community and connection. An urgent need for digital technology and innovation. We need all of it to survive.

And for all of it, we need one thing most of all: Empathy.

Nothing works without it.

Empathy in Action

Take MOD Pizza. The rapidly growing nationwide chain — which neared 500 stores at the outset of 2020 — is built around empathy. Since its founding, MOD has emphasized “impact hires,” which includes underemployed youth groups, second-chance employees, and those with mental and physical disabilities. Amidst the pandemic, MOD introduced and enhanced emergency relief pay, health benefits assistance, bridge funding, and free meal benefits.

“The goal of MOD is to serve people,” CEO Scott Svenson told Forbes earlier this year. “We had to survive in order to serve.”

There were struggles. The challenges and limitations of in-person dining in the time of COVID aren’t easy. But that’s why support is important.

In early spring, our team at SAP rallied for our customer MOD when dozens of employees across the nation came together to buy some pizza.  The results were inspiring. And not only did our team love the pizza, MOD felt loved.

And that’s something we could all use a bit more of these days.

“Normalcy” in the Workplace

Eighty-one percent of employees today believe their employers have gone above and beyond in their pandemic response, according to a recent AP/NORC poll of around 1,000 American workers. Not only that, productivity is spiking, with 75% saying they’re as productive or more productive since the onset of the pandemic.

But there’s an elephant in that supportive and productive room: People are unbelievably stressed. 54% of employees said stress levels are worse than usual, with nearly 30% considering cutting back on hours or quitting. The negative effects are even more widespread among black, Hispanic and female workers.

So, even though employers are stepping up, it’s clear that this moment demands even more empathy and care.

  • Fostering Flexibility: Flexibility has been essential to surviving the pandemic and the era of physical distancing. But we need to consider what comes next. A third of SAP employees have reported not wanting to return to the office even post-pandemic. Continuing to provide diverse — and safe — options to our workers will be key to supporting them physically and mentally, now and into the future. 
  • Prioritizing Mental Health: Studies have shown employee retention can increase by as much as 40% when companies prioritize mental health. And at SAP, every 1% of talent retained saves $60 million for the business. So, it’s a big deal. In our organization, we take frequent pulse surveys to keep up with our team and continually work to educate them that mental health days are a necessary part of sick leave that they can and should take. We’re also introducing or enhancing several mental health programs, including Crisis Leave and the Employee Assistance Program, to help our people navigate these challenging times.
  • Embracing Digital Technology: Putting employee wellbeing first is a necessity. So is embracing next-generation digital technologies. Believe it or not, the ideas are also one and the same. Digital tools are enabling the WFH productivity boom. They’re enabling us to be transparent, to check in with employees, and to respond intimately to what they need. The businesses that use this time to embrace digital innovation and transform their business? They’ll lead the way into the digital future. 

Despite our physical distance, we’ve never had an opportunity to create a stronger, more close-knit workplace culture. Now, more than ever, as they say. Together.


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Greg Petraetis

As head of Midmarket and Partner Ecosystem for SAP North America, Greg Petraetis is responsible for all facets of the organization’s operations. Along with accountability for sales and field project execution, Greg manages value-added resellers, third-party and OEM partners, distribution and inside sales. Underpinning these responsibilities is his unwavering commitment to ensure customers in this Midmarket segment in the region have the strategic support they need to digitally transform, innovate, and grow.