The COVID-19 Crisis Presents An Opportunity For Companies To Step Up Their Efforts In Ensuring The Safety and Well-Being Of Their Employees
The coming days and months will remain extremely sensitive and challenging for leaders as they experiment, explore, and evaluate new methods of working to keep their employees more productive, resilient, and safe.
It is no surprise that the COVID-19 crisis has gravely affected the mental health and well-being of employees. Business priorities and goals all over the world have drastically changed, with key challenges being to keep the business afloat, as well as manage the safety and security of employees.
The social distancing measures implemented by governments within the Middle East region have made people more isolated and uncertain. Homes have turned into offices, playgrounds, gyms, and schools, and changes due to health threats and job losses are not helping to make the situation better. Moreover, in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, our frontliners had to leave the safety of their homes, and make sure that the food is produced and displayed on the shelves of the supermarkets around the globe.
While many of us are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety against this backdrop, those with pre-existing conditions may find that the current situation has heightened the risks and impact related to their mental health.
However, most companies did a commendable job of addressing their employees' basic needs of safety and security during the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis. Remote working, technology tools, and useful resources helped strike the right work-life balance. But for a full return, companies need to commit to a broader range of initiatives that can enhance work experience and wellness.
My company, Sadia, too established an open communication channel digitally to keep all team members abreast of updates related to COVID-19, and check up on them to ensure their physical and emotional safety. People who could work remotely were given that flexibility, and the on-field team members were provided with robust precautionary and safety measures, coupled with an ongoing supply of personal protection equipment (PPE), whether on the ground or inside transport.
The systems that the companies had in place prior to the pandemic may no longer be the best options for their workforce. It is the right time to review, revise, and update current policies that may impact employees' health and well-being in the future. We need to look into adopting a fluid and flexible approach going forward that will allow companies to adjust their approach as circumstances evolve, and demonstrate to their employees that their safety and well-being is a priority.
For decades, need-based theories have emphasized the importance of employee motivation and behavior. To enhance employee experience, companies should explore addressing the most pivotal needs of the workforce as a team and as individuals.
With the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, leaders should be well equipped to devise an approach to mitigate further effects of this landscape-scale crisis. Here are some best practices and potential actions to ensure employee safety and security suggested by many experts and consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company:
1. Lead with compassionate leadership Leaders should focus on making a positive difference through programs and workshops that help teams to be aware and exercise empathy towards each other and make the workplace a better environment for everybody, every day.
2. Optimistic communication Leaders need to be transparent and keep the teams updated on the challenges during crisis. More so, leaders need to convey confidence and optimism about being capable to navigate the crisis at hand.
3. Prioritize employee relationships Quite often, leaders tend to focus on the business side of things during crisis, rather than building trust and engaging with their employees. Studies have shown that companies who have been successful in earning employee trust in the initial stages of a crisis were in better position to ensure a seamless transition post crisis.
Employees who continued to work at the frontlines during the pandemic, and employees that will be return back to work in offices will bring in their own mental health challenges. The return phase represents a golden opportunity for companies to rethink the employee and workplace experience in ways that individuals feels safe, comfortable, and secure at work. Leaders can leverage advances in behavioral science, analytics, communication channels, and listening skills and techniques creatively to ensure a supportive environment and experience for their employees.
Below are few steps that companies can take to support employees in their return phase:
- If you have managed to earn the trust of your employees during the crisis, build on the affiliation by being present, transparent, and most importantly people-focused.
- Create an enabling working environment and workplace culture with policies that will empower employees, and address a broad set of needs inside and outside of the parameters of your organization.
- Changes affect people in unexpected ways. Use your expertise and resources to train the management in developing their capabilities to support their teams in a more meaningful way, so that their transition back to work is smooth and comforting.
Besides the above, the other two basic areas we need to take care of are:
- Mental health resources for employees Now is a good time to ensure your employees are aware of all available resources at their disposal. Also, continue to remind employees of the importance of self-care, taking time off when needed, and other resources to help deal with these stressful times.
- Physical well-being protections Even if your company is located in a country with no definitive plans to reopen, a company should start planning and prepping guidelines and policies that will protect employees' physical well-being as and when they return to the office. Depending on the local law, companies may have to provide an ongoing supply of PPE such as masks and gloves, so that employees exercise social distancing in the right manner, and are accountable for each other.
In addition, employers should be evaluating the workspace to ascertain if changes can be made to the office layout to provide additional spacing between employees, or if employee shifts can be staggered so that less individuals are in the workplace at a given time.
The effects of COVID-19 will be long lasting– perhaps even permanent in nature. The uncertainty entailing the pandemic has compelled companies to restructure the way they operate their business and protect their employees. The coming days and months will remain extremely sensitive and challenging for leaders as they experiment, explore, and evaluate new methods of working to keep their employees more productive, resilient, and safe.