Open for Business: What it Means to be Safe at Your Workplace During the Year of the Pandemic

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Ready or not, here we come. With the first virtual school year and first corporate quarter of universal work-from-home in history apparently drawing to a close, American workplaces have begun making the methodical decisions and investments necessary to reopen.

A survey of U.S. employers by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that about half expect to bring their staffs back by the end of July. However, (most of) the offices and workspaces employees return to are going to look and feel a lot different than they did during the pre-pandemic era. Among the measures companies are taking to protect their workers:

  • A large majority will enforce new social distancing policies, including limits on the number of people in common areas (83%), spacing work stations further apart (79%) and adding partitions between workers and/or customers (69%).
  • Organizations will reduce the numbers of people on-site at any given time through limits on workers (81%), staggered breaks and shift start/stop times (75%) and limits on customers (78%).
  • Enhanced cleaning procedures will be the norm and nearly 9 in 10 will require the use of hand sanitizer and/or hand-washing before entering certain locations.
  • 86% will require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, and 80% of those employers will provide and pay for it.

But keeping workers physically safe is only half of the challenge. Equally important will be making workers feel safe. Resources from SHRM like its COVID-19 Back-to-Work checklist and tech tools like STOPit Solutions’ anonymous reporting and communications app are playing important roles in the transition back to a more ‘normal’ work experience. 

Even with the most thoughtful plan and effective procedures, however, it won’t be easy as anxiety levels remain high. A majority of Americans believe a second wave of COVID-19 is around the corner and that the re-opening process is moving too fast. At the same time, resistance to social distancing measures has solidified among those who believe the risk of COVID-19 has been overblown.

Many a clip has gone viral on social media showing arguments like this one between a Costco employee and a customer who refused to wear a mask on the grounds that he “woke up in a free country.” The customer filmed the employee, who held his ground and said into the camera, “Hi everyone. I work for Costco and I’m asking this member to put on a mask because that is our company policy.”

Costco President and CEO Craig Jelinek backed the employee, stating, “We know some members may find [the requirement to wear a face covering] inconvenient or objectionable, but under the circumstances we believe the added safety is worth any inconvenience. This is not simply a matter of personal choice; a face covering protects not just the wearer, but others too.” In fact, a mounting body of evidence has shown that the use of face masks has been highly effective in slowing transmission of the disease.

Costco’s response offers a critical lesson for managers who will soon lead their staffs into uncharted waters. There is no 100% perfect way to re-open – but once you’ve settled on your ground rules, everyone needs to be held accountable for following them – no exceptions. This is especially important as senior management considers the implications of not having an updated policy on health and safety standards. Businesses who reopen without the right tools and accommodations may run the risk of increased exposure to liability claims from employees who fall ill from COVID-19.

Clear, evidence-based actions boost morale and protect Health (and productivity!)

This is a fluid time, when decision-makers in government and industry are doing their best to combat a disease in an environment of rapidly evolving understanding and an avalanche of mis- and even dis-information. Some workers literally fear for their lives. They are counting on management to take the danger seriously and embrace any resource available to protect them.

Employees are not interested in getting caught up in a culture war debate about masks or keeping 6 feet apart. They just want to survive and keep their families safe. If employees don’t feel management is 100% in their corner on the issue, staff retention is bound to suffer. No matter how poor the job market, people will not endure the risk to their health, word will travel about their poor perception of your company culture, and possibly negatively influence your ability to recruit top candidates.

STOPit can play an important role in maintaining staff morale in these crucial months to come. As time goes on, some employees will undoubtedly begin testing their companies’ new safety policies and even bullying or harassing co workers who feel and behave very differently regarding safety protocols. The STOPit app could be used to empower employees who feel threatened or are being ridiculed to safety, anonymously alert management – either for themselves or for fellow co-workers – letting them know about safety violations and/or incidents of bullying and intimidation. Because the STOPit app protects anonymity, employees can ask for help and be spared the need to engage in uncomfortable confrontations that may even pose a threat to their health.

STOPit’s integrated messaging function and incident management system creates an intuitive, professional virtual ‘safe space’ where employers can respond to requests for help and better maintain morale and trust essential to a healthy corporate culture, and especially important during a time of change and uncertainty.

Contact STOPit Solutions today to learn more about how its technology platform and services can help ease your staff’s transition back to the workplace.

Helpful resources

CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 page

National Alliance on Mental Illness COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide

The National League of Cities COVID-19 Pandemic Response Website

SHRM’s (Society for Human Resource Management) COVID-19 Back-to-Work Checklist

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