We are all painfully aware of the panicked frenzy that is pervading society right now surrounding the novel coronavirus outbreak. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to muddle through the constant stream of information inundating us on the news and invading our psyches from every direction. Dealing with the deluge of doom and gloom can feel overwhelming, but it is important to take a step back, not get too caught up in the hysteria being promulgated by the media, or driven into delusion by everyday citizens who think they are experts, but are often wildly misinformed.
In our society at large, it is important that citizens look to their local, state and federal government authorities and health agencies to get reliable information and tips on how to protect and prevent transmission and/or infection during this global health crisis. In a similar vein within the workplace, there should be a select few designated to manage the flow of information and the dissemination of consistent messaging regarding policies and guidelines to be followed by all employees.
Transparency is Tantamount to Trust
The best strategy to take when addressing the coronavirus conundrum with employees is to be open and honest. In a time of unnerving uncertainty, people want to trust that their managers are looking out for their best interests and hearing their concerns, just the opposite of feeling unheard or alienated. HR consultant, Joan Rennekamp, from Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie based in Colorado, echoes this exact sentiment when she said that at a time when a looming global pandemic such as coronavirus is “. . .lurking in the background, it is important that employers don’t wait until an illness is upon them to make a statement to employees.”
This idea forebodes a precedence to set during unprecedented times--transparency. HR heads or managers should be sending frequent email updates on the state of the business or any corporate policy changes (such as sick time or extended leave allowances, teleworking policies, etc.) or any updates that will affect day-to-day operations for employees. Keeping employees apprised of what is happening in an ever-evolving climate is paramount in keeping the business running as smoothly as possible when external forces feel out of control and are running amok.
Back Up Employees So They Don’t Back Out
In addition to transparency, employees want to know that their employers ‘have their backs’. Employees not only want to trust what their managers are telling them, but they want to feel that this honesty and transparency is reciprocated. So, if companies want to remain as productive and profitable as possible, it is important that they are receptive to employees who confide that they need to take time off if the virus hits them or their households. As Rennekamp points out, “An employer who encourages employees to go home at the first sign of a fever will be viewed as an employer who cares about employees’ welfare” and “. . .has its act together.”
While one would think it would be the norm for workers to express to their super-visors or managers when they are sick, it is actually quite common, according to a 2019 Accountemps survey, for 33% of workers to go to work when they are feeling ‘under the weather’. This statistic doesn’t seem all that concerning under normal circumstances, however in this period of hypervigilance that we are finding our-
selves immersed in and the alarming rate at which coronavirus is spreading, this number could be both life-threatening for employees and life-altering for employers.