Employment and Jobs

Supporting Small Business Owners to Invest in Workers

November 18, 2020  • Vivian Vázquez, Ranita Jain & Jenny Weissbourd

Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses

Supporting Small Business Owners to Invest in Workers

This page is an excerpt from our downloadable brief, “Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses.”

In our interviews with small business owners and organizations that support them, we heard that small businesses want to provide quality jobs, protect worker health and safety, and foster equitable workplaces. But we also heard how hard it has been for owners to invest in workers when facing lower and unpredictable revenues.

Business owners are struggling to afford PPE and provide supports such as guarantee paid leave, health benefits, and childcare stipends. They are stressed about staying up to date with safety recommendations and regulations – especially in places where public guidance is not clearly stated or enforced. Small businesses will struggle to survive without robust support from the public sector, including financial incentives and deferments, flexibility in contracts, and clear guidance on navigating COVID-19. We hope this resource provides useful information to help small businesses navigate these challenging times. And we hope it motivates consumers and practitioners who care about small businesses, their workers, and local economies to advocate for additional resources and supports.

About Reimagine Retail

Reimagine Retail, an initiative launched in 2015 by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program and supported by Walmart, explores ways to enhance job quality and improve mobility for retail workers. The questions and answers shared here are informed by conversations with workforce providers and business leaders across our national Reimagine Retail network.

As part of this initiative, we are collaborating with Pacific Community Ventures (PCV), a community development financial institution, and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions (NFWS), a national workforce development network, as workforce intermediaries support small businesses in Baltimore and Des Moines to make job quality improvements. We are grateful to PCV and NFWS, whose work with workforce organizations and small businesses before and during the pandemic has informed our thinking about the challenges facing small businesses and workers as a result of COVID-19, and how workforce providers can play a role in supporting these businesses and their workers through the crisis. This profile draws on several years of work with these partners, and we appreciate the current and former staff who contributed. We are especially thankful to Tom Woelfel, Sanjana Seth, Kristy Henrich, Ana Hageage, Tom Strong, and Janice Urbanik.

We are also thankful to our partners in Baltimore whose innovative efforts inform and motivate our work. Thank you to Allie Busching, formerly of Civic Works, and Linda Dworak from the Maryland Philanthropy Network for supporting small businesses in Baltimore and for sharing their expertise. Thank you to Debra Keller-Greene and Michael Haynie, who served as business advisors in Baltimore and generously shared their knowledge and experiences with us. We are also incredibly grateful to the small businesses we interviewed in our role as a learning partner, and whose voices are featured throughout this resource: Connie’s Chicken and Waffles, Forever Wireless, Land of Kush, and Well Crafted Kitchen.

Finally, thank you to our colleague Maureen Conway for her thoughtful review and feedback, to Tony Mastria for editing and design, and to Yoorie Chang for her valuable support.


IMPORTANT: Please note that this resource is not legal guidance about workplace safety. This guide does not provide technical information about regulations that businesses must comply with for reopening. Individual business owners are responsible for complying with their local jurisdiction’s evolving guidance related to COVID-19. The National Safety Council provides a range of resources that you may find helpful, including federal guidelines and state-specific resources regarding COVID-19 and the workplace.


Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19

  1. How can I reassure my workers that we are following appropriate safety guidelines?
  2. How can I create an equitable and inclusive environment for my employees and customers?
  3. How can I help my employees communicate and implement safety measures with customers?
  4. How can I help my employees manage increased stress?
  5. How can I help my employees get to work safely?
  6. How can I recognize and respond to my employees’ caregiving responsibilities?
  7. How can I support my employees’ financial stability?

Learn More

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.