The upheaval wrought by coronavirus on the economy and job security means that the impact for many employees is profound. Organisations have described the potential longer-term impact of the situation, which may result in PTSD for some professionals further down the line, especially for those in frontline sectors such as residential care and healthcare.
Employees have been through the most uncertain, turbulent time in their career and many have lost their jobs overnight as a result of coronavirus. Here we outline how employers can uphold the duty of care they hold in relation to their employees and the strategies that will support long-term wellbeing.
Track and monitor the impact
The effects of what employees have experienced and what they have been witness to may hit them further down the line. Residential care employers have said that people have been fantastic, but as they have been focused on the task in hand, the after-effects may still be to come. Many of these employees have become a substitute family in care homes, increasingly so in light of visiting restrictions to minimise the spread of Covid-19. Watching people pass, even in spite of coronavirus, is something that employees regularly have to cope with in a care environment. There needs to be long-term strategies in place to support people who may be focused on their daily duties and who may feel the time has passed to ask for support themselves.
Maintain senior communication strategies
One of the key successes reported by businesses during this period is the levels of engagement they established. Many credit this with the communications offered directly by the senior executive team, with examples including regular blogs and videos, Q&A sessions with the CEO and other lines of open communication opportunities between all employees and the leadership team.
The importance of continuing these types of internal communications cannot be underestimated. Many employers must question whether they have set the expectation to continue in the same way and the genuine connection with work that this has fuelled for many employees. Even once employees start making the return to the office, this type of communication has enabled the employer to manage employee anxiety during this period; but anxiety levels may potentially be reaching their peak when this level of communication is taken away.
Special measures need to be sustained to manage the transition back to the office which may be more challenging for people in a way, after they have gotten used to remote working since March. Now is the time to consider ramping up care and wellbeing strategies, which may need to be in place for quite some time yet to sustain good levels of employee engagement.
The wellbeing strategies that deliver the most value to people will depend on your own organisation. This can be assessed directly through monthly pulse surveys, which can take the temperature of your organisation much more frequently. For some customers, they have learnt from the last recession that wellbeing is much more than purely physical health. Anxiety can be driven by other worries such as financial concerns or wider family issues. One of the top benefits highlighted by our UK Reward Management Survey in Spring 2020 was Employee Assistance Programmes. This provides employees with rounded advice, covering financial information and the opportunity to talk about this frequently. Asking employees directly about what they value can help you shape a competitive reward system even in times when pay increases may be constrained.
Consider the definition of employee absences
We also note that many employers are reviewing their sick leave policies as a result of coronavirus. Sick leave may be redefined by working from home during the outbreak, as figures went down at the beginning of the pandemic. Many employers reported that for some employees, they could have taken sick days before but remote working gave them the opportunity to still work in the comfort of their own home. Others voiced concerns that lower sickness levels were attributable to employee concerns over their job security.
In terms of the types of leave offered, some HR departments are taking the opportunity to see this as an area of innovation in terms of types of leave they offer. This signals a proactive move towards accommodating the individual and what matters to them in their personal lives, whether it be granting leave for employees with a dependant with particular needs to offering one day a year for community days or granting leave for those getting a dog.
At the heart of this is the employer’s wish to create a fairer system which engages employees. If employers want to be seen as a market leader in offering flexible working arrangements and benefits, this starts with asking ‘how can we engage with our employees more?’ Indeed, there is a debate about how to define ‘sick’ leave in the new world of working from home, because if you can work from home at 50% capacity, does that qualify as sickness? Employers will have to start having conversations about how to define, manage and record these levels if employee discretion to carry on is involved.
Strengthen the employer/employee relationship
The pandemic has underlined that the way in which employers treat employees now will have a profound impact on how they view the organisation in the future. Our spring UK Reward Management Survey highlighted that most employers think that they have been really good at handling the situation – employers are keen to be seen to do things in the right way but this needs to be carried into their actions when preparing people for an office return or in the transparent way in which they make redundancies.
An organisation’s conduct in times of crisis has long-term ramifications on the culture of the workplace and the employee value proposition itself. People want to know that they are working for an ethical organisation that prioritises their health and wider wellbeing at a highly stressful and uncertain time. Open lines of communication and support throughout the business can reinforce the actions of a business when difficult decisions are being made fairly, using an objective framework and, where possible, in collaboration with employees.
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