6 steps to protect employees, manage business risk and maintain engagement
The coronavirus pandemic presents urgent challenges for business leaders, who must balance the interests of customers and staff with those of the company. While the greatest of these may appear to be operational and ﬁnancial – particularly the disruption of revenue streams – managing the impact on employees is also crucial. Covid-19 not only presents risks to their health and safety; it can increase work-place stress and hurt engagement and productivity. The right response – one that demonstrates balance, resolve, transparency and a commitment to people’s well-being – can go a long way toward mitigating these risks. It can also bolster the company’s reputation as a caring employer and an attractive place to work. On the other hand, mishandling the response can be costly. In this report, we present six key steps for effectively managing the HR dimensions of the coronavirus. It reﬂects our perspective as of March 16, 2020. We will continue to track developments and provide additional guidance as the situation evolves.
1. Maintain business continuity
The coronavirus pandemic is the latest reminder to leaders of the importance of planning ahead. Regardless of how deeply the pandemic affects company ﬁnancials, the way HR responds can have a lasting impact on the engagement and retention of talent. Leaders need to be seen as leading. This means having a practical, far-reaching approach to ensuring business continuity; having contingency plans in place should the situation worsen or be prolonged; communicating these plans; demonstrating concern for the health and safety of employees; and providing timely updates about how the situation is impacting key stakeholders.
2. Deliver clear, frequent communications
Take the lead in creating and executing an employee communications plan to convey important company policy, plus health and safety guidelines from credible sources (e.g., CDC, WHO). Report company status and provide updates as often as necessary to stay current with developments.
Initiate direct communications to all workforce segments with any segment-speciﬁc considerations/guidelines (e.g., part-time, full-time, contractors). Emphasize employee safety practices, provide updates on any new working guidelines (e.g., travel restrictions, take laptops home every night). It is also advisable to set up a dedicated channel to provide real-time updates (e.g., an internal social media platform, a dedicated hotline) and issue reminders about beneﬁts such as employee resource lines, employee assistance programs, virtual health) and electronic pay options that provide easy access to funds (e.g., direct deposit, pay card, on-demand pay).
Workforce Health Maintenance
3. Maintaining employee health at work
Companies continuing to operate workplace facilities should take extra precautions to ensure employee safety. These should comply with all workplace health and safety regulations as well as any additional steps needed to prevent the spread of the virus. Considerations may include travel restrictions, separations/rotations of workers in critical roles or temporary shutdowns of facilities.
4. Review employee paid time off policies
Consider adapting absence and PTO policies to recognize the unique challenges that the coronavirus presents to employees and their families. For example, some organizations are adjusting, at least temporarily, the number of allowable PTO or sick days; others are using more discretion in excusing absences. HR and payroll leaders need to partner to analyze the feasibility and potential impact of such changes and ensure changes are effectively implemented.
5. Expand virtual working
Encourage employees who are able to perform their job remotely to do so. In some cases, mandate remote work for a period of time as the progression of the coronavirus is assessed and better understood. Working from home is likely the best option. Provide any additional support people need to work productively from home, e.g., messaging, shared storage, collaborative tools, and audio and web conferencing. Some organizations are starting to use digital dashboards to track critical tasks across teams as well as tools that enable managers to monitor the output of employees working remotely.
6. Maintain essential HR/payroll operations and legal compliance
Maintaining HR and payroll operations and legal compliance without disruption is imperative. Digital technology can help by letting employees validate a timecard, check a schedule, request a sick day or switch a shift with a colleague.
The coronavirus pandemic presents unprecedented risks to ﬁnancial performance, business continuity, workforce well-being and corporate image. Decisive and empathetic leadership, agility in adjusting HR policies, and clear, timely communication are critical to managing successfully through this crisis.
Maintaining employee well-being requires prudent measures to keep the workplace virus-free, effective health-care and sick-time policies, and a shift to remote working. While business continuity is top of mind, the extraordinary upside opportunities of this crisis should not be overlooked. Executives need to expand their decision criteria to include the impact on the workforce and avoid making decisions based disproportionately on bottom-line ﬁnancial considerations. Moreover, while every company must fulﬁll its legal obligations to employees, it should consider the payoff of doing more than the minimum required. Our advice is to ﬁnd ways to share the burden equitably. Companies that are seen as doing right by their employees will earn priceless capital in the form of strengthened employer brand and employee engagement.