What does getting back to work “safely” and with “empathy” actually mean? What do you need to consider when you think about the welfare of employees from a social and health perspective. How can you meet your employees where they are? Whatever steps you take there will be a new spin on “Business as Usual” in a post COVID-19 era. While the opinion that you should get back as soon and as “normally” as possible is held by many, establishing a new post-pandemic normal will be a necessity. Considerations such as legal implementations, individual preferences, and personal safety will all need to be thought out by employers when reopening doors to workers and customers. While there is no right or wrong answer to how we get back to work safely, there are certainly some factors that you need to considered.
Education is forever changed
School schedules for children will be different in all ways, one of which is the decision that parents must make about whether or not to send their children back into a traditional school environment. Parents are now considering the impact of sending their children back to a classroom setting and potentially exposing their children or family to this virus or any other. What do families with underlying health issues do; their decision may not only impact the child but their entire family structure. This is a personal choice that people will have to make. Employers will then be tasked with determining how they will support those parents who make the decision to stay home and educate their children. Flexible work hours must be considered not only for those home schooling parents, but also for those who support their children in after school extracurricular activities. Companies will need to consider the option of allowing workers to take a mid-day break from work for school activities then resume working online in the evenings after these activities are completed. If an employee states that they can and want to do their work remotely, it will be the responsibility of their employer to determine whether or not they will allow them to do it. Organizations will also need to become well versed in legislation such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) which provides protected time off and pay for employees due to closed schools and/or unavailable childcare.
Sick Leave takes on a whole new meaning
Certain ethnic cultures maintain the belief that the only time to take off work for illness is if there is imminent death facing themselves or a close family member. Traditional organizational policies related to sick leave have perpetuated this idea by providing only a limited amount of Paid Time Off before compensation is adversely impacted. This sends the message that individuals should report to work even if they are ill. Organizational policy change needs to allow people to stay home if they are sick with the option to work remotely when possible. There needs to be a shift in the workplace that sends the message that it is acceptable for employees to stay home with symptoms. Staying home when symptomatic not only positively impacts the employee, but it will also help to maintain a safe working environment for their peers. While encouraging them to stay home is acceptable, active exclusion of sick individuals, even when done to protect employees, can be seen as unlawful discrimination and poses significant risk for employers. Attention should be paid to creating an organizational culture of accepting and understanding of the health needs of employees. Think about this? Would a prospect be willing to work with your organization if your sick leave policies penalized your employees for coming into work while an employee was sick. Your prospect may think about the risks of working with your firm and the chance that your employee may infect their employees. We need to show empathy and build policies of acceptance and health protection.
The New Chief
Corporations can look forward to a national movement to hire Chief Health Officers. As organizations begin to more thoughtfully consider the physical and mental health of their workforce and how it impacts productivity, the need will arise to have a subject matter expert make decisions on related policies. Similar to the fairly recent emergence of Chief Marketing, Social, and Branding Officers, organizations will need to address the need for an executive who is responsible for tracking and maintaining the health of their employees. Different from current employee health programs, the CHO will be responsible for policies, processes, and tech solutions that need to be implemented in order to manage an organization’s physical and mental health. Important decisions will need to be made around hardware, software, and data to manage the health of an organization; therefore, an individual in the role of CHO will have a collaborative relationship with Human Resources and IT departments to implement health solutions.
One of these solutions will likely be wearable technology to track employee movement. The location of employees will be monitored throughout the day to observe contacts as well as locations that are visited within the workspace. If an employee becomes ill, the employer will trace their movements, sanitize the high touch areas in which they entered, and notify individuals who are at risk due to coming in contact with the sick employee. While many companies are currently utilizing manual processes for screening employees, large corporations will not be able to maintain this practice when the volume of workers returning to work increases. Wearables, CDC data, and local policies will need to be considered to isolate risks and guide reactions to public health emergencies. Establishing the CHO role is not a magic solution to health concerns in the workplace—overall workforce management also needs to be evaluated.
Take a look at what two leading companies are doing to address these issues: Salesforce (Work.com) and Telaid (Occupi).
When considering what will be needed to return to work, it will be necessary to evaluate the physical environment to best allow for social distancing and safe movement of employees throughout the workspace. Corporations will need to strongly consider expanding hours allowing employees to work on different shifts due to capacity restrictions. The physical setup of the work environment will also need to be adjusted to allow for social distancing when onsite. Organizations will also need to implement policies concerning Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), evaluating supply chain issues when it concerns critical products, sanitizing solutions (check out NationalChemicals.com response to COVID19). Masks and gloves will be the new normal for some employees and for some it will be taboo. Because the utilization of PPE is such a polarizing topic—some individuals are extremely opposed and some strongly for—special attention will need to be paid to avoid divisiveness and perceived prejudices in the workplace as a result of differing beliefs.
Sensitivity to Underlying Conditions
Many workers may be hesitant to come back into a physical workspace—or even decline to do so due to themselves or someone they live with having underlying high-risk health conditions. There are several questions that should be addressed when considering an employee’s willingness to return to a workspace post coronavirus. Do you lose an employee because they don’t feel their company’s response to the pandemic was sufficient? What are the legal rights around terminating an employee and… should you? A strong grasp of federal regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will be a necessity when addressing the needs of workers who cannot, or will not, return to an office due to medical conditions—especially those who fall into high-risk categories. Employers will need to be cognizant of workers’ individual circumstances and act accordingly to accommodate their needs in a way that is mutually beneficial to both employee and employer. This includes allowing the opportunity to work remotely when feasible. Another critical issue with remote workers will be “Data Security” – network intrusion protection will need to be heavily evaluated. This review needs to be even more thorough when working with protected information such as PHI and PII in order to minimize risks.
Adopting our new “Business As Usual” does not come without challenges. Leaders will need to show empathy and acknowledge that there will be differences in cultural preferences, wellness and childcare needs, information security and a vast number of additional topics that all must be considered when determining the policies of an organization. This is no small task and the best companies and leaders will address these issues head on to make sure that the voices of ALL employees are being considered. I challenge you to be employee obsessed and design programs and policies that are inclusive of your entire work force.