This unprecedented time has required leadership teams, with the assistance and expertise of human resources (HR) staff, to make quick and potentially tough decisions. If you were lucky enough to already have a pandemic plan in place, then you are in the vast minority. As corporate leaders, we are all finding ourselves in the most unlikely scenario, and thus, may not have been fully prepared. The first and foremost consideration in a pandemic situation such as COVID-19 should always be staff safety. Nonessential business is no longer occurring in person and companies that can telework made the decision early on to transition to a fully remote workplace.
However, if your business is essential and/or does not lend itself to remote work, then you have had to create comprehensive safety policies and to reassure staff and customers of safety precautions. Even so, employees may be refusing to come to work if safety policies and procedures are not adequate, or if they are immunocompromised and thus at higher risk for infection. Employees may be entitled to expanded unemployment and/or emergency paid leave in these situations. Regardless of the business (essential or nonessential), HR professionals grapple with balancing business needs with the (rightful) concerns of employees. The question becomes, how can this balance be achieved? There is no right answer here, but there are some important considerations to think through.
Staff Reduction or Reallocation?
Nonessential businesses that cannot function remotely (or have a subset of staff that cannot function remotely) and do not have a significant safety net have likely been faced with furloughs and/or reductions in force. Unfortunately, this has been the status quo particularly in the service industry, where margins are already tight. In these instances, it is important to remind your separated employees of their right to expanded unemployment under the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. HR professionals in this situation are dealing with a worst-case scenario that is unfortunately a reality for many businesses that do not have a safety net to weather this storm. If you have not been forced to consider reducing your staff size, but you have a subset of staff who have had a slowdown in work due to paused projects or other factors, then reallocation is an option to consider along with a hiring freeze. At Fors Marsh Group (FMG), the HR team has been working to reallocate staff resources to aid in internal projects when our direct billable work has been delayed. As the HR team has been working on the coronavirus response, we’ve been able to keep on track with other initiatives, such as our leadership development program and learning management system (LMS) implementation by leveraging internal resources for assistance. We expect this to be able to continue as long as necessary, until paused projects are resumed or new work is secured.
Policy Changes that Balance Compliance with Compassion
If you find yourself in a best-case scenario (nonessential business that can function remotely), such as FMG finds itself in, and staff safety has been secured, there are now hundreds of pages of new legislation to decipher. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and CARES Act are two new pieces of legislation quickly enacted as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Creating policies that comply with these laws is critical not only to every business, but to employees who will be looking for guidance on navigating the FFCRA in particular. At FMG, leadership has made HR’s job in this instance very easy, as they have made a commitment to go above and beyond the requirements of the FFCRA in supporting those directly affected by COVID-19. Employees have the flexibility they need to balance work and home responsibilities.
Communication that is Transparent and Cognizant of Mental Health Concerns
In between developing a COVID-19 response, deciphering legislation, creating new policies, fielding questions from worried employees, and of course other ongoing responsibilities, HR and leadership may find themselves overwhelmed. However, it is important to balance protecting the business with keeping the “human” in “human resources.” Employee mental health concerns are a reality in this situation, but there are many steps you can take to ease employee concerns. First and foremost, it is important to be transparent with employees who may be anxious or scared. Easing employee concerns as much as possible should be a high priority after physical safety. This requires choosing which information to disseminate and when. You’ll also want to highlight resources available to employees who may be concerned about their mental health from the stress of isolation and the unknown. Such resources may include virtual mental health services and employee assistance program (EAP) services. At FMG, we have made it a priority to disseminate new policies and procedures as soon as possible. Additionally, employees hear from our CEO at least weekly with important policy and business updates.
Although we may be physically isolated, we are all in this together!
Fors Marsh Group will continue to share business operations insights as shifts occur due to COVID-19. Sign up for more perspective pieces from FMG Experts here. Reach out to our team to continue the conversation and gain additional resources.
Human Resources Manager