According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 outbreak will continue to impact the business world into the foreseeable future. While organizations today are worried about the spread of the virus and its effect on business, equal concern should be directed to the health and well-being of employees, as we all re-invent the new world of work.
The Mercer Group, a global health benefits and investment company, has been running a live survey to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global market. Their survey, How are companies supporting their employees during this outbreak? has been collecting results in real-time since March 17, 2020, with responses from almost 2,000 business leaders per question.
The survey is yielding some surprising insights on which important actions are not yet being taken by many employers with regard to managing their most valuable asset, their people.
We analyzed the results to date (as of April 9, 2020) to see where room for improvement may be needed in some critical areas of employee support. In particular, we looked closely at responses to the question: Which of the following arrangements have companies taken, or are taking, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak?
We found that many initiatives which could be considered essential to support employees are not yet being adopted by many companies.
Let’s take a closer look at what the responses reveal, and which initiatives your business may be overlooking that could serve to support, engage, and empower your workforce through this crisis.
When it comes to providing special, flexible, or reduced working hours for employees during the COVID-19 crisis, the Mercer survey reveals that just over half (54.5%) of respondents are taking action.
In many cases, businesses are torn between two imperatives: meeting business demand and caring for employee needs. However, as the pandemic continues to disrupt the routines of your workforce, more flexibility will be needed with working arrangements. Now is the time to empower your employees, as best as you can, to balance their daily work, stress, and personal lives by allowing them to work at different and even reduced hours.
Most likely, many of your employees are caregivers. They will either be dealing with the stresses of minding children, or caring for older parents, at home or in a facility. By allowing them the flex time required to deal with personal matters and the issues weighing heavily on their minds, they will be less distracted when working for you, and better able to focus and be productive.
Relaxing rules around hours and face time will empower your people to set their own priorities and run their day in a way that is less stressful and more manageable for them. In some cases, you may even consider making employees accountable for completing a batch of work within a given timeframe, rather than clocking in and out each day at a specific hour.
For employers with staff still working on-site, there are other challenges. In addition to ensuring a clean, safe facility, you should consider implementing schedule changes to ensure social distancing at work. It’s now essential to minimize the number of people present at your worksite at any given time through the rotating of staff and a new shift schedule. According to the Mercer survey, however, only 42% of respondents have so far taken this critical step to protect the health of their on-site staff.
According to current survey results, only 13% of Mercer respondents are conducting an internal survey, interview, or focus group to understand what their employees are thinking and feeling, while 27% have captured informal information to better understand their employees’ state of mind. These low percentages reveal a missed opportunity for most companies.
Reaching out to employees for their feedback at this critical juncture is important for a number of reasons. First, it lets them know you care about them, and consider their thoughts and opinions valuable. Second, gathering employee feedback can provide you with an important temperature check on morale, engagement, and what’s needed most from you as an employer right now. Rather than guessing and making decisions that may adversely impact your workforce, a pulse survey or focus group may help you strategize smarter, while also re-engaging and re-energizing your workforce.
A lot of organizations today are focusing on leadership visibility and one-way information flow, but it’s just as important to ensure employees’ voices are heard. New technology is available to capture employee insights and make them work for your business. Look to engagement analysis tools to collect feedback and identify patterns and trends in employees’ emotional states. With this information at hand, your organizations will be better equipped to build action plans and respond quickly to employee issues, as well as help reduce turnover, burnout, and absenteeism.
If your company has moved to off-site working arrangements, precise guidelines need to be established and communicated to your employees to ensure a successful transition.
A majority of employers today are moving forward on this, according to the Mercer survey results. In fact, almost 66% of respondents are providing employees with a work-from-home playbook of best practices known to be effective. This result, however, still suggests some companies have yet to provide the formalized guidelines employees need.
A best practices playbook for employees who are working remotely should be part of your strategy to drive continued employee performance and engagement. These best practices don’t have to be a dry PDF alone; they could also be disseminated in a variety of ways including a webinar, training series, online course, or CEO video address.
With many employees working from home and reliant on technology, companies also need to turn their attention to their networks and employee access. Are your communication channels resilient and accessible? Do employees need assistance in setting up and paying for connectivity to work from home?
Mercer survey results show around 56% of companies have adjusted their VPN capacity in anticipation of slowdowns and communicated new approaches to employees.
More companies will need to follow suit. Additionally, with the move from the office to working from home, some employees may also be required to invest in infrastructure or internet services they haven’t needed previously. Employers could consider easing the financial burden by subsidizing internet costs and allow employees to purchase increased bandwidth as needed to do their jobs. Surprisingly, as few as 14% of respondents say they’ve provided subsidies to cover internet expenses for employees who do not typically work remotely.
The stress and uncertainty around this crisis will be having a profound impact on your employees’ state of mind. They are likely experiencing a wide range of emotions including concerns about their own health or that of their loved ones, pressure to care for family members and anxiety around financial security. Home isolation and social distancing too, can bring with it very negative psychological effects.
Less than half of Mercer survey respondents (43.3%) say they are addressing their employees’ psychological stress during COVID-19.
Organizations can — and should — take action in a number of ways to support the health and well-being of their workforce right now. Here are some ideas to consider:
Consider enhancing your wellness programs and health benefits to include access to more services to prevent, treat, or manage psychological distress and burnout. For example, could you offer your employees an online yoga class or meditation program? Some companies today are even employing health benefits selection tools, empowering employees to customize their packages, picking and choosing services to meet their needs.
One of the most important things your organization can do is to clearly communicate the services, support and wellness programs available to your employees today. A Gallup research poll found that 85% of U.S. employers offer a wellness program, but only 60% of employees at those companies are aware of them. It’s one thing to enhance your wellness programs during COVID-19, but equally important to ensure everyone knows what they are and how to access them.
An effective way to ease stress caused by money worries is by offering a flexible pay experience. Through on-demand pay technology, you can enable your workforce to access their pay on the same day, rather than waiting for the next pay period to be paid out. This will also send a positive signal that your organization is stepping up to support them during financially challenging times.
Supporting your workforce through flexible work practices, two-way communications, enhanced health benefits and flexible pay, is not just a nice thing to do anymore. It is absolutely critical for the continued success of your business. With a global crisis upon us, prioritizing employee well-being is now more essential than ever.