Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Employer brand during coronavirus is a hot topic. “What is your company doing?”, “Did you hear so and so are delivering wellness boxes to their employees”, “Apparently so and so is making their employees take all their holidays”... and so on. How you treat your employees during lockdown and in the recovery period will become part of the legacy of your employer brand, and for years to come you can expect potential job applicants to enquire “How did they treat their employees during coronavirus?” to inform decision making about what company they wish to work for.
So, it’s important to be as conscious of your employer brand coming out of lockdown. It’s by no means the end of the coronavirus crisis for employers, simply a new phase and in many ways it is probably a harder one to get right than the ‘work from home’ one. As a HR manager you will be super busy preparing your workplace for employees to return. No doubt you're also busy handling the concerns of your employees. You want to show them that you care and that you’re actively working to support their health, safety and wellbeing.
There are three key that will help guide your decision-making and actions during this period.
People’s circumstances have changed dramatically over the course of the coronavirus epidemic. Some have developed new habits and are revelling in working from home. Others are gasping to jump out the window of their child’s ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ bedroom that’s been doubling as their office and charge, faster than Thomas himself, back into the office. Some people will have ongoing health concerns, childcare issues, or growing inclination to make working from home a more permanent part of their lives. Now is a good time to reevaluate your workplace flexibility policies pre-COVID-19 and make adjustments to reflect new trends.
If it is viable for your business to continue operating with people working remotely then you should go with a ‘return-by-choice’ policy which leaves the decision to come back into the office in the hands of the people it impacts the most, your employees. After this, phased or partial returns will help to ease reluctant employees back in.
Quality Safety measures and PPE
Quality is the key word here.There is simply no cutting corners when it comes to implementing effective coronavirus health and safety measures in your organisation - and I don’t just mean in terms of marking out ‘safe distance’!. Getting your workplace ready for employees to return is a big task. You'll be focused on risk assessment, creating a safe space and developing effective protocol for responding to a potential outbreak. These need a big time investment from your HR team, from senior management, the Covid-19 health and safety officers or employee taskforce (if you have one of these). Financial investment will also be required for once-offs such as Coronavirus health and safety assessment consultation and the creation of a Coronavirus health and safety employee training programme.
Other costs are ongoing such as extended cleaning and maintenance hours to facilitate daily deep cleaning.
You will also need to invest in PPE for employees - and again this is absolutely not something to cut corners on. There is a lot of PPE in the market and PPE suppliers are keen to supply employers looking to get back to the office. It’s important to ensure that you buy quality PPE for your employees. But how do you know if it is quality PPE? It’s quite simple. PPE such as surgical face masks or respirator face masks are either certified, or not. Look for reference certification codes such as EN14683 For medical surgical face masks and EN149:2001+A1 2009 FFP2 for FFP2 respirator face masks. Providing your employees with PPE is for their colleagues and their own protection, not to make you look good. If you provide face masks and other PPE to your employees, make sure it is quality and actually does the job of protection it is supposed to.
Wearing face masks over long periods can be uncomfortable, but their sensible use make a big difference, as is evidenced Internationally.
What kind of PPE should you provide for your employees?
Hand sanitiser obviously should be fitted throughout your buildings, especially at entrance points and around canteens and bathrooms.
It’s a good idea to equip your employees with a personal thermometer and have them take and record their temperature each day before coming in - or have a temperature checkpoint manned at your entrance instead. Disposable face masks, either surgical face masks or FFP2 respirator face masks, is a good idea. FFP2 are a better fit than surgical masks, with minimal leakage.
Government advice is to wear face masks as is reasonably practicable. Transmission risk is greatly reduced outdoors, which has helped with the positive ‘cuve flattening’ that we have enjoyed to date. Indoor transmission risk is higher, due to more limited air circulation, and the use of masks is proven to reduce transmission significantly.
Asking employees to wear face masks will depend on your particular workplace. If there is close contact required then absolutely, as in the case of packing, factory, healthcare, hospitality and so on.
Cloth Face Masks - The head of UCD National Virus Laboratory has advised the Dail that ‘evidence around the use of CLOTH face masks is NOT Fantastic. While medical grade masks work very well, inappropriate mask use could be potentially harmful and could increase the risk of transmission.’
Other workplaces such as office settings may not need strict employee face mask policies. However, there may be certain areas of your building, or particular departments, for example screening rooms, mail sorting rooms, modelling, blueprint etc where closer contact takes place and face masks should be provided for your workers.
Even if you don’t have an employee face mask policy in place, providing face mask station for employees to pick up face masks and other PPE and wear it at their own discretion once again puts the employee back in control of their own health and safety and shows that you are thinking of their welfare beyond what is mandatory. Some employers for example have face mask stations for employees to use on public transport, which is strongly advised.
Companies should ensure that PPE provided to staff meet legislative safety standards. Providing an employee with a cloth mask is akin to asking them to wear a soft cap on a building site instead of a hard hat.
Many HR managers have followed a policy of over-communication since the onset of the Coronavirus epidemic. This, indeed, was the right thing to do. Employees can be isolated at home and need that lifeline from their employer to feel in the loop and get visibility and some sense of security over their future. This level of communication should continue as you prepare to return to work, sharing all of the measures you’ve taken, what employees are and are not required to do, the continued empathy and flexibility of your organisation and so on. Crucially, you should also share results. How did the first week back go? Are there certain metrics you can share with employees monthly? Gave you adequately explained the business case behind certain decisions such as the need to have people physically on site, or the financial factors involved in changes to annual leave policies?
You should also make sure that communication is two-way. Give employees opportunities to feedback to the business with surveys, question boxes, one on one catch ups with HR and so on. They need to be part of the decision-making for the future of their workplace, so make sure they have a voice and that it is listened to and acted on.
So there you go. Bear flexibility, quality and communication in mind and you should be ok. Remember, HR managers have never been in this position before, so it is new for us all. Do your best and let people know you’re trying and welcome their input. It is not all on your shoulders, but you do need to lead your business in these areas. Best of luck rolling out your coronavirus health and safety return to work policies and making your best practices part of your employer brand.