It’s difficult enough in normal times when an employee comes to you struggling with something in their lives that you have no resources to address. What do you do when every one of your employees is suddenly anxious and overwhelmed with the same mounting crisis?
Widespread complications both from COVID-19 and the efforts to limit its spread will hit frontline workers hardest as they struggle to cope with medical costs, childcare disruptions, food insecurity, and lost wages or unemployment. Much of this situation is beyond your control, but there are some key things you can do to help your workforce stay safe and feel supported.
Whether it’s a change in operations, strategic pivot, or a pandemic, some truths are always relevant. Transparency from management builds trust and engagement, and that is more essential than ever in this confusing moment. As a business leader, you have a major impact on the health and safety of your employees, and they rely on you to make plans and decisions thoughtfully. Choosing to share not only what actions you’re taking, but the factors you’ve considered and the reasoning behind your decisions can increase your workforce’s confidence in management and their comfort at work.
It may feel counterproductive to share information broadly when the situation is changing by the day, but silence only adds to worry and anxiousness. Even if you don’t have all the answers, updating your workforce regularly, sharing what options you’re considering, and assuring them that you’ll continue to keep them updated as plans inevitably change can manage fear and panic and build trust.
You can be a valuable source of general information, from CDC recommendations to school closures, helping your employees adapt to changing circumstances with as much planning and notice as possible. And as their benefits provider, you can help employees to understand what the company health plans cover so they can get the care they need. If you offer an EAP, remind employees that they can access counseling resources and get the phone number in their hands.
For many businesses, the decision to have employees work remotely is straightforward, or the call to close physical locations is out of your hands. But if it’s essential for your (healthy) employees to keep coming into work, what can you do to help them feel safe?
Even small adjustments like staggering start and end times and break times can make a difference. Do your best to get creative—can you rearrange workstations to create more distance? Install cough and sneeze guards between your staff and customers? These measures can do a lot not only to limit contact and potential transmission, but also to make your employees feel appreciated and cared for.
This crisis has shown a spotlight on the importance of paid sick leave, not only as a personal financial need but as a public health necessity. But even if your workers aren’t losing shifts or out of work, many of them will be facing difficult unplanned expenses from this epidemic. Medical costs, childcare during school closures, lack of school lunches, or just paying more for basic supplies that are suddenly scarce.
To combat this, consider creating a hardship fund or offering payroll advance loans to help your workers with financial emergencies. In many situations, a few hundred dollars at a critical time can be the difference that keeps an employee in their home, gets them critical medical care, or prevents disruptions in childcare or transportation that could force them to quit unexpectedly.
If you have funds available but are worried about the logistics of managing them, WorkLife Partnership is an expert in hardship fund administration, and we can also access government funds and philanthropic funds available to help your employees.
Your frontline employees are the experts in the day-to-day of how they work and what they need to do their jobs well. When they have an idea that could keep them safer, make a process more efficient, or save money, do they know where to take it? Do good ideas get to the right person quickly, or do they get lost for days or weeks in a rigid chain of command? Creating designated communication channels for anyone with a suggestion or concern and inspiring confidence that they will be heard may draw out smart ideas or prevent problems you’d otherwise have missed.
Sometimes the most important thing you can do for someone is simply to listen. HR veterans know how valuable it is simply to offer some of your time to comfort an employee who is feeling overwhelmed. But anyone in a caring profession also knows how draining it can be, and this moment is stressful and scary for us all. So it’s also essential you take a break, take time for yourself, and keep your own head above water, even if you’re feeling like everyone around you needs you more.
The number one thing we’re hearing from employers right now is that they want to do more to support their people. Right now, many of your employees likely need help to cover their bills, manage their households, and cope with overwhelming stress and anxiety. WorkLife Navigators are working around the clock to catalog the new landscape of government and community resources coming in to fill the gaps people are facing. We know to the minute what funding is available, which organizations are adapting and open, and how to get employees connected to benefits through complicated systems and constant rule changes.
Our purpose as an organization is to help people, one-on-one, with the real problems they’re facing, and no matter the crisis, we have the time and resources to make sure your employees know someone is there by their side (remotely, of course).