At a time when millions of Americans are being told to stay home, millions of others have no choice but to show up. These “essential workers” are employed in critical infrastructure sectors such as food & agriculture, healthcare, energy, transportation and critical manufacturing. And they are risking their health every single day.
If you employ essential workers, it’s essential that you are supporting them in every way possible. Companies large and small have struggled to get it right, including high profile examples such as Amazon and Instacart who find themselves being publicly challenged by employees who don’t feel cared for during this pandemic.
Below is a collection of best practices for you to consider adopting as you support essential workers.
- Communicate. People are receiving massive amounts of COVID-19 information from countless sources. Help your employees sift through the facts and fiction by directing them to valid sources like the CDC and WHO. Also, make sure your leadership team provides timely organizational updates to reassure employees about the state of the company and their individual roles. A lack of communication can cause additional stress on an already stressed workforce. Make sure the message is clear and consistent from the top down.
- Educate. Provide educational information on COVID-19 symptoms so that employees have a clear understanding and can take action as early as possible if needed. There are also a ton of great flyers and videos on proper handwashing. We’ve all heard the 20 second rule but do you know the WHO’s recommend hand washing technique?
- Increase safety measures. Many "essential workers" have concerns for their own health and the potential to bring the virus home to their loves ones. Implement policies to minimize exposure. Make sure the policies are documented and shared with employees to alleviate concerns. Have things like hand sanitizer, soap, and gloves (if applicable) readily available to all employees. Ensure frequent sanitizing of high traffic areas, as well as door handles, tables, chairs, countertops, water coolers, light switches, faucet handles, etc. If applicable, conduct training on dealing with the public. Require adherence to social distancing policies. Create an environment where employees can comfortably work at least 6 feet apart. If necessary, stagger shifts. Create policies for non-essential visitors or employees. Offer temperature checks. Designate a team member that employees can go to with concerns.
- Stay focused on wellness. People are struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression. Make it easy for your employees to have access to the tools they need. Highlight mental health resources such as your EAP. Reach out to your partners, like wellness vendors, to see what types of tools they have. Contact carriers to get flyers/benefit information on therapists. Promote benefits such as backup child care or dependent care assistance programs.
- Be clear on benefits. What are your sick, PTO, and unpaid leave policies? Make sure employees are aware of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which addresses paid sick leave for employees impacted by COVID-19 and those serving as caregivers for individuals with COVID-19. This can help reduce the risk of sick employees showing up to work.
- Be flexible. Now is not the time for rigidity. Your employees are your best asset. Work with each one through their unique circumstances to find solutions that will help all parties.
- Maintain appropriate hours with breaks. Workers are putting in overtime, going home to stressed households, and then repeating the cycle. Make sure work hours are manageable and require employees to take breaks.
- Go the extra mile. Show workers that you care. Check in with everyone to see how they are feeling - physically and mentally. Inquire about loved ones. Ask specifically how you can help. Let people vent and share their feelings. Bring in lunch for your team. Raffle off grocery gift cards. Little gestures can be extremely meaningful in tough times.
- Stay positive. Help employees maintain a positive outlook at a time when it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Share the feel good stories – the healthcare workers coming out of retirement to help out, the teachers doing car parades through neighborhoods to see their students, the volunteers sewing facemasks. Provide mini notebooks that employees can use as gratitude journals. Encourage employees to bring in a picture of something that makes them smile and post it to a shared bulletin board.
- Reiterate goals. Remind employees why they are there. Connect the work they are doing to the greater good and explain to them what a valuable team member they are.
The longer this pandemic lasts, the greater the toll will be on essential workers. With each passing day and week, your strategy must adjust, and so make sure you are actively listening to your workforce and watching for signs of fatigue and frustration. The points above are a great place to start, but keeping a steady pulse on your organization’s specific challenges and needs is paramount.
Are you a company that employs essential workers? How are you navigating the pandemic? What steps are you taking to maintain your company culture and support the overall wellbeing of your staff?