Over the past two months, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread rapidly around the globe. Recently, the World Health Organization characterized the virus as a pandemic. For most organizations, this outbreak is raising questions and concerns. Based on research from various fields, including workplace wellness and organizational leadership, here are four steps to consider to help employees during a global health crisis.
1. Talk about it. According to various polls, COVID-19 is a concern for people in various countries. One survey found that two-thirds of Americans think coronavirus is a real threat to public health. Another poll conducted in England found that six out of 10 respondents think it is a threat to the country. People are concerned. Some may be apprehensive about travel. Others may be wondering how the organization will respond if colleagues test positive for the virus. To determine how worried your workforce is, it is important to give employees an opportunity to voice their questions and concerns. This can be done through team meetings, department-level discussions, virtual chats, or town halls. Studies have found that social support increases resilience and ability to cope. Listening to employees is one effective way to make them feel supported.
2. Educate employees about preventative measures. In recent weeks, false information about the origins of COVID-19 and the best way to prevent it has emerged. For employees, misinformation can create confusion about how to stay safe. One of the best ways to prevent rumors and half-truths from taking over the workplace is to educate employees about COVID-19, ensuring they understand associated symptoms, recommended preventative measures, and what they should do if they feel sick. Guidelines like this one from the CDC can be useful. Helping to ensure employees understand what they can do to keep themselves and their colleagues healthy can create a work environment that is safer and less stressful.
3. Reduce unnecessary travel and in-person meetings. According to various health agencies, COVID-19 is an “emerging disease” and more needs to be learned about its transmissibility. Based on research to date, doctors and medical researchers find that it spreads easily from person to person. Many health agencies have recommended avoiding travel to countries or regions with elevated numbers of confirmed cases. As the virus spreads to more communities, organization may want to reduce unnecessary travel and replace in-person meetings with virtual meetings.
4. Provide more flexibility. Many jobs require employees to be on site, at their desk, or on the shop floor, but others can be done virtually. If employees can work remotely, now is a good time to make sure they have the freedom, flexibility, and technology they need to telework. The potential benefits of increasing telework are twofold. First, it may help keep employees healthy if an outbreak hits their community. Second, flexibility may also increase employee engagement and performance. Mercer | Sirota has found that employees with flexible work arrangements are significantly more motivated and committed than their office-bound peers. Researchers from Stanford University have found that call center employees working from home were 13% more productive than their in-office peers. And, researchers from the University of Texas have found that telecommuting employees put in more hours than their in-office coworkers.
By implementing these steps, organizations can help their workforce plan for what they will do if their community or organization is affected.