On April 3, the day after Georgia governor Brian Kemp issued a statewide shelter-in-place order, the management team of a pizza parlor in Atlanta made the decision they had been dreading: to close the restaurant and convert to take-out only. Along with that decision, they furloughed nearly all of their employees. They simply didn’t have the work or working capital to keep their employees on board.
But then the team did something unusual for a business that was winding down: They started placing new orders with their suppliers. More bread, more pasta, and more sauce.
And then they gave it away. The restaurant staff set up weekly “care package” deliveries to their furloughed employees, making sure they had food to get through the stay-at-home order and furlough period.
In the face of crisis, this team turned the threat of scarcity into an act of generosity. They are not alone.
It’s a cliché to say the coronavirus has profoundly changed the way we work and live. The Small Business Administration recently estimated that one in four small businesses in the U.S. has already shut down temporarily and another 40% plan to do so in the next two weeks.
In the face of crisis, this team turned the threat of scarcity into an act of generosity. They are not alone.”
Last month, we announced a $50,000 company-wide “stimulus package.” We distributed the funds to every employee as a cash bonus ($250) in their next paycheck. Our only ask was this: Use the cash to cover any incidental costs you incur as you shift to working from home, and then spend the rest of it supporting small businesses in your community.
We didn’t require any paperwork or expense reimbursement. We put our trust in our employees to deliver our values, to spend the resources wisely, and to give back to the types of businesses they go to bat for every day. In a moment of crisis, trust, after all, is the most important human resource we have.
Over the next several weeks, our employees went beyond placing takeout orders from their favorite local restaurants. They bought books from the neighborhood bookstore, stocked their kitchens with coffee beans from their favorite roaster, decorated their new home offices from their favorite Etsy shop, prepaid for haircuts from their barbers and stylists, and started community gardens with seeds from their local nursery.
But they didn’t stop there. Employees also sent thank-you notes to their local businesses, doubled the tips they left, posted about these businesses on social media, and made donations to nonprofits that were short on funding. One employee gave their entire stimulus check to their cousin, a waitress and a single mother of an immunocompromised child.
Fifty thousand dollars is not enough money to save our small businesses, just as a delivery of pasta, sauce, and bread isn’t enough to support a family for a week. But we shouldn’t let what we can’t do stop us from what we can. We can be part of a broader solution to help small businesses and, just as importantly, to show we care.
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The management team of the pizza parlor in Georgia had it right. Even in the most trying circumstances, we all have something to offer. If you are leading a team or organization that has the ability to do so, consider creating your own stimulus package—whether it’s in the form of a monetary bonus or basic supply donations to those in need. Empower your employees to be agents of change in their communities, deliver your core values, and celebrate and invest in the businesses that form part of your employees’ ecosystem.
Much larger relief programs have and will continue to come from federal, state, and local governments. Those programs will provide some small-business owners and employees with important financial support. But it’s on the rest of us to fill the gaps. Let’s support small businesses together so they have the resources to carry themselves and their people through to the other side of this crisis.
Nathan Christensen is CEO of the newly formed union between ThinkHR and Mammoth HR, companies that deliver HR on-demand services to over 300,000 small and midsize businesses nationwide.