How to reduce the pandemic impact on employees: A guide for company leaders
Over the past two months, COVID-19 virus has spread to all continents except Antarctica, infecting people in many countries around the world. As the virus spreads, the society, economy and business are being impacted.
How to minimize impact of the epidemic on business, its performance results and, most importantly, on employees – these are the main issues of concern for every company leader.
A recent Deloitte survey conducted among over 1,000 respondents from companies operating in China shows that the epidemic will adversely affect sales volume and cash flows as well as the ability to serve clients/consumers and manage business. Significant risks also include ensuring the safety of employees returning from vacations and business trips, difficulties related to supply of raw materials, lack of tools for organizing remote work.
Company executives also point out that COVID-19 will have an impact on performance efficiency of organizations: 46% of respondents expect a reduction in performance targets in 2020.
So what measures can be considered most important and appropriate? Based on the results of Deloitte's research conducted in similar situations in the past (particularly, during the SARS epidemic), we recommend taking a number of measures.
Companies should consider the possibility of establishing a dedicated cross-functional team (a business response and continuity office). The appropriate cross-functional team could coordinate the activities of different business units, monitor and provide the necessary information to senior management team for further communication with employees, customers, and partners.
It is high time to analyze the critical roles and key positions, as well as to determine a team of interim successors in case of force majeure. Top management is often away on business trips and there is an increased risk that some employees may not be available in the office due to a quarantine or illness. The companies should develop an effective process of management decision making under various scenarios.
Determine how your company is going to ensure the safety of employees who have to be at work and cannot work remotely (e.g., shop assistants, cashiers, drivers, etc.). The companies are reviewing their policies for maintaining good hygiene in the workplace, providing disinfectants, etc.
Analyze the priority of your company's projects: focus your teams’ efforts on the most important and critical tasks. Allow more flexibility with low-priority tasks.
- Ensure effective communication with employees. How leaders behave during critical moments leaves a lasting mark on their companies and people. Therefore, a consistent and effective communication and interaction with employees can strengthen the company and enhance its culture. Remember to think of the future. If there is disruption, there will also be recovery.
- Consider implementing flexible and remote work options (82% of respondents stated the importance of this approach). School quarantine, quarantine after business trips– all this can add stress and increase burden on your employees. You need to respond to the needs of your personnel. Be prepared for increased absenteeism. Consider preparing temporary succession plans for key executive positions and critical roles in your business.
- Share the up-to-date and relevant information about COVID-19 symptoms and disease prevention recommendations among company employees. Use only credible sources of information, such as the World Health Organization. You can establish a dedicated hotline or conduct a series of remote seminars with relevant health professionals to facilitate question and answer sessions with your employees.
- Consider providing a psychological and financial support to your employees, such as emergency assistance, additional insurance coverage, regular payroll payments.
- Focus on organizing a safe work environment: purchase of medical equipment and supplies (e.g., thermometers, antibacterial products), self-monitoring of employees' health, and disinfection of workplaces.
- Some foreign businesses have already reviewed their sick leave policies. In particular, they provide for a temporary absence from work due to illness without the need to provide doctor's notes for absences.
- Develop and communicate clear rules and obligations for employees who are at risk (those who traveled abroad for personal reasons or were on business trips). These include the requirement for a 14-day self-isolation of such employees and cancellation of all meetings with the clients and coworkers.
- Companies should ensure the safety of working environments by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting workplaces. In the event that an employee is suspected of being infected with COVID-19, a clear process must be in place for removing that employee from the facility, and for proper treatment of the facility.
- Update your travel and meeting policies. For organizations with high travel needs, especially to international destinations, assessing the impact of the epidemic on travel is necessary as travel has been linked to the transmission of COVID-19. Companies should actively monitor the latest travel guidance from the government, review their travel policies, and be prepared to track and communicate with travelers. Another consideration is the possibility of your employees being stranded away from their home locations due to the imposition of travel restrictions by governments around the world, and the degree to which you discourage personal international travel.
- Make sure that your social media policy is properly defined for this crisis. It should provide clear guidelines with regard to how employees can talk about your business and the impact of COVID-19 on operations and employee health and safety. Provide employees with an internal communication channel to report what they are seeing and feeling within the organization to ensure direct communication as an alternative to social media. At the same time, an effective social media monitoring program may help you to identify emerging issues that are affecting your customers, markets, and production regions.
- Consider the sources of information in the workplace. Misinformation in the media has created particular challenges for organizations responding to virus outbreak. Employers should become the source of accurate, timely, and appropriate information for their employees. Consider creating your own news channel in the workplace based on credible sources of information.
Planning of workforce strategies
- Work through the most difficult scenarios (for example, if there is a need to close offices or some production lines) and prepare appropriate communications for your employees in advance. Your task is to provide a constructive response, and not a chaotic communication with employees, or no communication at all.
- Consider possible scenarios for temporary staff reduction (for example, through the introduction of unpaid vacation, as was the case with the Ukrainian employers in 2008-2009). However, be very cautious about making harsh, unpopular decisions about personnel reduction. The crisis will pass, but inappropriate decisions or behavior of company leaders in a time of crisis will have a lasting negative impact on business.
Despite all the risks and stress, it is important to remember that we have faced crises situations like this in the past. First of all, it is a challenge for the company's culture and management practices. If you believe that people are the most valuable asset to your business, then you have to communicate, plan, and be consistent. Show up for your employees and support them.
At the end of the day, we are all human, and every one of us may be impacted by COVID-19. Now is the time for company leaders to lead for the safety and welfare of their people.