How to Prioritize Employee Safety After Covid-19
Any good employer wants to create the safest possible working environment, but as employees in their millions head back to in-person work, what specifically do they want in a safe workspace?
Among Covid-19’s game-changing ramifications is how employee safety needs to be both defined and assured anew. These tasks will be particularly crucial as legions of workers return to physical office environments and other places of business for the first time in nearly two years.
Beyond it simply being the only paradigm under which any enterprise should wish to operate, prioritizing employee safety also has a profound effect on reducing company losses. According to a 2017 research report from Mercer, each unhealthy UK employee — via disengagement and resulting low-quality output — costs employers an average 27.5 working days of productive time per year, and when health and safety isn't prioritized, workers are more likely to get sick. Eventually, they might not be able to make it to work at all, meaning that remaining employees need to pick up the slack.
All of this was true before the onset of Covid-19, and even with vaccines being administered around the world, variants are emerging regularly and breakthrough cases aren't uncommon. And, if an employee comes down with a case, it remains a standard recommendation (if not a requirement) to quarantine for at least seven days, with a high chance that those in close proximity will have to do the same.
What do employees need to feel safe?
As the economy continues its recovery and more jobs are created, more people will be rejoining the in-person workforce, and will want potential employers to have new plans in place — will be regarding safety assurances increasingly as a sine qua non: if they aren't in place, staff members will look elsewhere for opportunities. Several recent studies have proven this to be the case. A May, 2020 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) detailed that 39% of people at the height of the pandemic were either forced to stop working or required to work remotely. Despite that, 51% of them said that a fear of getting sick would stop them from coming back to the workplace again. Parents with children under 18 regularly indicated that they didn't necessarily want to return to in-person work at all, particularly in instances when they would have to use public transportation, while others indicated that they couldn’t consider such work because they were taking care of sick family members.
But a critical thing to acknowledge, even in the midst of such daunting stats, is that many of these fears and the issues associated with them can be addressed by having a proactive approach to prioritizing safety in the work space. To that end, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that employers institute, among other measures, a "disinfecting plan".
The same survey-based PwC report mentioned above indicated that high on the list of new measures employees want is personal protective equipment (PPC), while 51% said that, especially in retail environments, they want customers to follow common-sense safety and hygiene protocols, and finally wish to be notified immediately when one of their colleagues has tested positive for Covid-19. Similar interest is seen in organizational leadership circles, too. A full 73% of executives responding to a PwC survey in June of 2020 said that they would promote face masks, Covid-19 testing and even the reconfiguration of their entire offices to help make social distancing as easy as possible.
Consider additional CDC recommendations
To further satisfy managerial appetite for safety, the CDC recommends several additional measures, chief among them that employers recognize personal risk factors that employees may have. No two staff members are the same, after all, and some will inevitably be living in a higher-risk home, perhaps, or be faced with some other challenge (including underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes and immune deficiencies) that needs additional consideration. All of these factors need to be considered when drafting policies for employee protection.
In the end, when companies make it a priority to look after the physical health of staff members, they not only create a better working environment, but foster a sense of overall caring, which in turn makes people more apt to be engaged with their jobs — a winning dynamic that can long outlive this pandemic.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor