According to a recent survey, 9 out of 10 employees are concerned about COVID-19. Many expressed specific concerns about returning to work amidst the pandemic, including health and safety, job security, and changing workplace culture. Company leaders and HR must be aware of these concerns and address them accordingly as back-to-work plans are developed and employees begin going back into the office.
Despite the slow ramp-up to re-opening, fears of the disease and infection are prevalent. Whether moving back into the office or still working remotely, employees need assurances and support for their financial, physical, and mental well-being during this health crisis.
Employees want reassurance from employers that they will not lose their jobs and/or will receive paid leave if forced to miss work. Many companies are facing extremely tough decisions like furloughs and layoffs, so honesty and openness are crucial during this time. With so much information and new legislation coming out in recent weeks, employees need help navigating the regulations and processes things like family leave, paid sick leave, and unemployment benefits.
Employees also need to remain informed and updated regularly throughout the crisis. How is the company handling the shutdown? How is HR helping employees? When will the business reopen? Is there a back to business plan in place? Employees want to know and you should want them to know too. Concrete answers are always better than speculation for both employees and the business as a whole.
Health and safety concerns
If the decision has been made to return your workforce to the office, returning employees shouldn’t have to worry about their health and safety by just coming into work. All sick employees must be sent home immediately. For employees returning to a worksite, make sure they understand what’s expected of them in the workplace, including safe social distancing and proper hygiene. Explain company policies and procedures related to illness, washing hands, cleaning, and disinfecting, as well as changes to regular work procedures involving meetings and travel. Are masks required? Will temperatures be taken? Will hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies be provided? And finally, educate employees on current CDC recommendations on reducing the spread and avoiding contact with those that are sick while away from the office.
As outlined above, your employees are going through A LOT right now and not everyone is handling it okay. For many, returning to work amidst all of these concerns is only going to further strain their mental well-being. HR and management need to step up during this time to ensure employees are getting the mental health support they need to cope with the stresses (anxiety, work-life balance, social isolation) of the pandemic.
Here are four immediate action steps that organizations should take to help employees with their back-to-work concerns.
Prioritize the physical and mental health and well-being of your workforce
While allowing a work-from-home option is still the most ideal situation, there are several critical steps you can take for workers that are coming back into the office. First, set clear guidelines for what is expected from employees in the workplace and what they should do if they get sick. Provide detailed safety information and training on any new policies or in-office practices, such as reorganization of work areas and staggered lunch breaks.
Second, ensure there are measures in place to support your employees’ mental health needs. Reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and make mental health resources available by actively sharing them repeatedly with all employees. And finally, utilize technology, such as virtual counseling, wherever possible.
Ask employees about their concerns and actually listen to their responses
If you haven’t asked your employees how they are doing, what they are worried about, and what support they need, then you are not giving enough support. To learn where your employees need support the most, it is crucial to give your employees an opportunity to voice their questions and concerns in team or company-wide meetings, one-on-ones, town hall-like settings, and with a continual open-door policy. Check-in with employees regularly and talk to them about things other than just work. With all of this, it is important to show empathy and be a great listener.
Communicate regularly with a clear, concise message
During times of change or unrest, communication and information are critical. Provide your employees with regular updates on everything from the basics (daily expectations, safety procedures) to the big picture (company stability and impactful finances). Employees that are informed feel more empowered and grounded, as well as less anxious and stressed. As you prepare your communications, be sure to keep your messages clear, transparent, and to the point.
Setup managers to provide better support to all employees
According to the same study mentioned previously, one-third of employees think their manager’s response has been less than effective. This crisis has only highlighted the fact that some managers simply just don’t know how to manage people effectively. Now is the time to ensure your immediate managers have the critical information, helpful resources, necessary skills, and comprehensive support they need to help their teams during this uncertain time.