Guy with glasses and mask writing on a white board.

COVID-19 has decimated American jobs and dramatically changed the way we work and do business. LeadersUp surveyed employers to find out how they have responded to the coronavirus crisis. Our main objectives were to measure the efficacy of employers’ rapid response; assess talent needs and gaps in training and support for workers; and to identify opportunities to spearhead an inclusive economic recovery.

We conducted two surveys from April 13 to May 5, 2020, to gain insights into how businesses across sectors are managing staff reductions, remote work options, and health and safety concerns. The first, in partnership with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) Business, Jobs and Social Responsibility Division (BJSR), received responses from 53 employers (62% of respondents) at LAX and Van Nuys airports. The second gathered responses from 32 employers (38% of respondents), including 12 in the public sector and four nonprofits.


More than 95% of respondents operate in at least one of three LeadersUp target markets.

  • 70% in the Los Angeles area

  • 23% in the San Francisco Bay and Chicago markets

  • 4% outside LeadersUp target markets – graphic

  • Approximately 35% of respondents work for a company that employs 50 or fewer workers.

  • Approximately 30% of respondents work for a large company that employs more than 1,000 workers, including the freight and commercial trucking divisions of a major transportation, distribution and logistics (TDL) company; a global financial services firm; one of the largest nonprofit healthcare plans in the U.S.; and a major airline that ranks among the top 10 in the U.S.


Among the Key Findings:

Two-thirds (67%) of respondents have been impacted by COVID-19.

  • Their business requires face-to-face delivery of services

  • They have been severely impacted by social distancing measures and travel restrictions

  • The costs of providing additional health and safety measures to keep employees safe

The majority of respondents have taken action to reduce staffing costs but are reticent to initiate layoffs.

  • More than half (55%) of respondents reported the need to reduce staffing costs by either closing their offices, reducing executive salaries and employee wages, furloughing full-time or part-time staff, and/or laying off employees.

  • However, just 22% said they had initiated layoffs.

The majority (70%) of employers are providing work-from-home solutions, but improvements are needed.

  • 60% of employers reported being prepared to implement virtual solutions in response to COVID-19.

  • 51% reported their employees have adjusted well to the virtual workspace.

  • Nearly 60% of all employers believe that their reliance on virtual solutions will “likely” or “very likely” increase as a result of COVID-19.

“We need employees that will have a laptop, headset and Windows, a phone (and), hard-wired Internet connection.” - Chicago utility company manager

We identified gaps in pre-pandemic preparedness.

  • 1 in 6 respondents (19%) were not at all prepared, or only somewhat prepared to implement virtual solutions.

  • More than half said they are using virtual conferencing to conduct business and believe their reliance on virtual tools will increase. The most popular tools are Zoom (21%), Microsoft Teams (20%), followed by Skype (16%), Webex (13%) and Google Hangouts (12%).

  • However, a small subset of respondents said they were unable to provide virtual solutions due to social distancing measures.

More can be done to support employed and displaced talent during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • 45% said they are referring full-time employees with benefits to their Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Research shows EAPs are woefully underutilized and nonexistent at most small companies.

  • 44% are providing information to access community services for employees in need.

  • 31% are also providing additional technology assistance and support to transition to utilizing virtual solutions to maintain business operations.

  • Additionally, we know from research that not all companies have EAP benefits, particularly for the more than 50% of employers that responded to this survey and employ fewer than 200 individuals.

My answers may sound like we are not doing much for employees. We put in many safety processes including masks, gloves, hand washing stations. Supported them by having management show up at buildings every day even though some could work at home. Made sure payroll and benefits were covered while some customers slow paid invoices. We buy lunch for staff every Friday and pay some staff that have to stay home, because children are out of school and they are single parents. – San Francisco Bay Area Transportation Logistics and Distribution Company Employee

Layoffs: Compare and Contrast Air Travel Industry vs. Other Sectors

According to Airlines for America, during the first quarter of 2020, the number of flights dropped by 75% and passenger volume decreased by 95%, leaving U.S. airports nearly empty and airlines strapped for cash. Analyzing responses from air travel-related companies, 80% have laid off workers, closed operations or furloughed employees compared to 35% of non-air travel sector employers.


Many of the young adults responding to our survey indicated that they were concerned about remaining healthy at work and said their employers were not taking enough precautions. They also are concerned about accessing healthcare during the COVID-19 outbreak. This is an opportunity for employers to:

  1. Operationalize measures to ensure the health and safety of employees, which should include additional training, if necessary, and

  2. Find creative ways to extend healthcare coverage to all employees, both full- and part-time, to maintain a healthy and productive workforce. Nationally, approximately 75% of workers ages 16-24 are hourly employees. They are less likely to have access to affordable employer-based group health insurance and are among the first to be laid off.


More analysis is needed to explore the impact that public sector interventions and economic stimulus packages, e.g., the Paycheck Protection Plan, has had on employers’ ability to keep workers on the payroll. In addition, our young adult survey found that most are not receiving any type of public assistance during the pandemic. Employers must not assume their employees know how to access public support, such as unemployment insurance and special programs passed by state and local lawmakers to address economic hardships during the coronavirus crisis. This is an opportunity for employers to communicate more effectively what’s available to employees who have been laid off, furloughed, or have seen a reduction in hours.

Virtual solutions are here to stay, and employers may want to think about providing new skills and supports to up-skill their workforce. The next generation of talent believes that work is what you do, not where you go. Nearly all employers have changed the way they conduct business and are utilizing more virtual conferencing, project management and team meetings to keep employees safe and healthy. However, low-income employees who live in poor communities may lack the resources, such as access to Wi-Fi and a personal computer at home, to succeed in a virtual work environment. While many employers indicate that they were prepared, fewer employers indicated that their employees were prepared. This suggests there are opportunities to up-skill a virtual work culture by providing technology assistance to overcome barriers, such as Wi-Fi or computer access at home; transportation; childcare and affordable housing.

75% of young people between the ages of 16–24 are hourly workers and may not have access to EAP programs due to their part-time status, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employers should reimagine how employee support is deployed. Making strategic investments in recruiting and retaining diverse talent will heighten brand equity and access to untapped talent pools to:

  1. Fill in-demand jobs and

  2. Provide critical wraparound services to stabilize employees in need so they may continue to be productive and their businesses can thrive.

One Los Angeles construction company manager advised,

“Be vigilant, stay in touch with employees, ensure safety and be informative. Encourage and support one another. May God bless and help us all.”