The Biggest Leadership Challenge CEOs Face in 2021

And How to Tackle It

4 key steps to boost employee morale


As we hit the one-year mark of Covid-19 in the U.S., many business leaders are looking at how they can navigate the next year. From business challenges to keeping their workforce intact, companies are picking up the pieces from a year like no other.

In our Q4 2020 Vistage CEO Confidence Index, we asked CEOs what is the most significant leadership challenge they are facing as they looked to adjust to life during the pandemic and beyond. Overwhelmingly, the response was morale. Employees and business leaders across the board are experiencing extreme fatigue from too many Zoom calls, operating in isolation, and the professional, personal, and family stress of the pandemic lifestyle.

Simply put, people are burnt out.

As we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, leaders have an important task of boosting morale or facing the consequences later. Based on how they were treated by their company during this uncertain time, employees are either going to stay loyal or seek new employment once the crisis comes to an end.

There are a few things leaders should consider now to help reignite company morale and ensure employees feel valued.

1. Find creative ways to engage the human brain. 

Given the increase in video calls, Zoom fatigue is a very real issue. Instead of the now-standard video happy hour to connect with colleagues, look at unique ways to bring the team together and engage with them. Invest in a virtual tour of a local museum or create a scavenger hunt for your employees. A simple change in the weekly routine adds a little bit of excitement to a workweek that can start to feel like Groundhog’s Day.

2. Restate and restore your company vision. 

Employees have to believe that there’s a better day ahead and that you as a leader have not just a vision for the future of the organization, but the plan to get there and the commitment of your leadership team to make it happen. Clarify your vision of where your company is headed and how you will emerge on the other side of the crisis. Most important, ensure your team knows that each employee plays a unique role in the company’s success. Your vision guides where your company is going and unites the team in working toward a greater purpose.

3. Power up your culture.

Culture held companies together during the crisis and culture is powering companies to climb out.  Now is the time to double down on culture as your unique differentiator. Culture is more than employee perks or benefits–it’s the unique force that connects people in a company. New employees can struggle to connect with culture in a virtual workspace. Strengthen your culture by restating and reinforcing company values on a regular basis. Establish consistent communication protocols and continuously provide recognition for accomplishments big and small. Those key aspects of company culture will help you attract and retain top talent.

4. Set goals in short-term sprints. 

Throughout the past year, the economy has constantly been evolving. While some industries flourished, many came to a halt. Bouncing back will not happen overnight. Breaking down annual goals into short-term sprints gives employees realistic goals to focus on and reach. And then when each goal is met, celebrate with employees. These small moments of celebration will be what employees look back on when considering leaving a company.

This has been a tough year. The challenges that leaders and employees have had to face inside and outside of work are some that we have never seen before. However, with news of multiple vaccines becoming more available each week, returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic life is becoming a reality.

Leaders must be compassionate of the fatigue that employees are feeling, or they will start to lose the talent they have. They must also manage their own fatigue, as they are not immune to stress or burnout. Doubling down on your company vision and culture ensures that employees feel like they are contributing to the larger picture and will stay dedicated for years to come.

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