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Keeping Employees Safe as They Come Back to Work Follow these suggestions to help employees stay healthy at work and comfortable knowing you take their safety seriously.

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Across America, many businesses are not only re-opening, but also preparing to bring their employees back to the workplace. The last thing employers want is to simply open their doors without the proper precautions and procedures in place to keep their employees happy and safe.

If businesses re-open without accounting for their employees' wellbeing, they run the risk of rising absences and even complaints to HR or OSHA. In a recent survey, 41 percent of sampled employees expressed fear of returning to work due to the potential of spreading Covid-19.

With this percentage in mind, we have outlined some common, and some not-so-obvious, tactics employers can deploy to keep employees as productive and safe as possible as they begin to return to the workplace.

First, follow CDC and OSHA reopening recommendations.

While it may seem obvious, following CDC and OSHA recommendations can help keep your employees safe and show them that you are maintaining distinct, government-approved measures to ensure they are comfortable, healthy and happy. Enforcing practices like social distancing, health screenings upon entry, wearing masks in shared or common areas, as well as proper cleaning and sanitization methods are just a few of the important and recommended measures to take when reopening.

"Employees are expecting to see hand sanitizer, wipes and signage for social distancing — if they can physically see or access these things, it reinforces the fact that you, as an employer, are taking their health seriously, and they can go about their work day confidently" says Adele Spallone, vice president of clinical operations at The Hartford.

In addition to following these measures, it's extremely important for employees to see these protocols actually take place. If you can prove to your employees that you are passionate about your organization upholding these standards as an employer, productivity and efficiency will increase while anxiety surrounding reopening will decrease.

Gauge employees' expectations for reopening.

Surveys are a great way to not only check-in with how your employees are feeling but what they expect from you upon returning to work. The information gathered from surveys can help you understand what they prioritize in terms of their health and happiness and can also help you identify the protocols you may need to set in place to help them feel safe.

Katie Dunnington, head of absence management for Group Benefits at The Hartford, suggests sending weekly email surveys to stay on top of employee expectations. "If employees are anxious and worried about their physical safety, by definition they will be less productive because they are using more energy worrying," she says. Anonymous surveys can be an excellent tool to help you determine if you are living up to employee expectations post re-opening your workplace all while protecting employees' privacy. Again, if your employees feel as if you are taking their feedback and concerns into consideration, they will feel both safe and empowered to be productive.

Design and communicate your reopening strategy with employees.

To combat misinformation and further anxieties, design a reopening strategy with accurate, consistent messaging surrounding those plans. Following CDC and OSHA suggestions, employers should audit the physical workspace and determine what they will need to be able to carry out proper protocol. Whether that be spacing out desks to maintain social distancing or staggering shifts to ensure that the recommended amount of people are gathered in one place, employers need to discern the best possible strategy to reopen.

And so far many employers seem to be taking the right steps. Employees have indicated that they feel satisfied with their company's response to Covid-19, with nearly two-thirds (65 percent) agreeing that their company's overall response to the pandemic has been adequate, according to The Hartford's Future of Benefits Study.

Dunnington encourages employers to also be transparent. "It's a balance," she says. "Employers want to strike the balance of keeping the rumour mills at bay but also informing employees if an incident has occurred. When building out the reopening and communication strategy, employers should keep transparency at the core because you don't want to degrade the level of trust between you and your employees."

Once your strategy has been agreed upon, it is time to plan out how you will communicate this strategy with employees. Whether that is a series of emails, a virtual training course, or a meeting detailing that strategy, employees need to receive consistent and updated information to stay informed.

It's also important to have the resources accessible to employees so that they may access them at any necessary time. Keeping a companywide intranet file with updates as information surrounding re-opening, or the virus itself, evolves would be a simple way to keep employees up to date.

Consider how your employees will return to work.

While some employees may have the luxury of driving to work in their own car, some employees may need to utilize public transportation or ridesharing services to return to work. As an employer, it is important to consider each employees' transportation situation so that you can address any further anxieties or risks.

For example, an employee may have to take crowded public transportation to and from work which not only increases their risk of contracting the virus, it also risks the spread of the virus within the workplace as well. Implementing further work-from-home policies for commuters or offering cost-effective alternatives to public transportation is a great way to mitigate risk and soothe commuting anxieties.

From developing a reopening strategy, to ensuring your new protocols are enforced, and keeping employee safety and overall well-being top-of-mind, your business will be on its way to reopening in a safe and employee-focused manner — all without risking productivity.

Interested in learning more about how to plan a safe return to the office? Click here to listen to A Safe Return podcast from The Hartford.

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