Weathering the Storm

Today’s post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos. Here we review U.S. research we conducted in 2019 to understand how organizations can better support their employees in during extreme weather events – making connections to the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

As COVID-19 rapidly spreads around the globe, governments and employers are scrambling to react – focused on the wellbeing and safety of people while balancing business continuity and keeping their organization afloat. Resources are being poured into rapid development and deployment of test kits and getting a vaccination to market. Everybody is worried about their own health and that of their families, and how it will or already has affected their working status.

This virus is probably the most personally disruptive event that many of us will ever face. Currently, a third of the world’s population is being urged to stay home in order to slow the spread of the virus. The Tokyo Olympics have been cancelled. The global economy has ground to a halt. And those who are able have been encouraged to work from home to comply with recommendations from world health leaders.

Needless to say, a lot of employees are worried right now about how their employers will support them if they are impacted by COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published extensive advice here for communities and employers.

Thinking about the worries of the working world – both laptop toting and those who require presence to do their jobs – it made me think of a recent research study we conducted in the U.S. among employees and their employers (represented in the study by people managers, human resources leaders, and executives) to understand how well prepared organizations are when it comes to meeting their employees’ expectations during extreme weather events and other natural disasters. We also compiled tips in a report titled “Weathering the Storm,” to help business leaders, HR professionals, and people managers navigate extreme weather and natural disasters.

Though COVID-19 is not an extreme weather event, it is certainly an extreme event that may have long-lasting impact on the world of work. As the global pandemic continues to evolve, insights from this research could help shape your employee communications strategies in the coming weeks and months. Here are the highlights:

Communicate clearly

Our data indicates that 73% of employees and 88% of employers believe their organization takes disaster preparedness seriously. However, fewer than half (45%) of employees said their employer had communicated in the last 12 months generally what would happen at the workplace if a weather emergency or natural disaster occurred. Their employers agreed that they are under prepared, with 35% saying they’d not taken measures within the previous 12 months to proactively communicate disaster preparedness information with their employees.

Employees in our survey told us they expect clear and timely communications from their leaders. Once it’s apparent a work location may be affected by a natural disaster, nearly half (49%) of employees think their employer should demonstrate their commitment to employee safety by communicating clear expectations about their work schedules and how those expectations will be modified as the situation changes.

Alleviate concerns with a culture of caring

For employees who can work from home, schedule issues may be a big concern while juggling personal and family care. For the majority of workers who can’t telecommute, though, schedule changes and their ripple effects are among employees’ greatest concerns. Specifically, they cited challenges they’d face including:

  • Ability to commute to or from work (58%);
  • Finding someone to cover for them if they’re unable to make it to work (40%);
  • Securing child, family, or pet care while at work (39%);
  • Being late to work (39%);
  • Perceived unreliability if they have to miss work (38%); and
  • More than a quarter (29%) are concerned about employer retaliation – such as receiving reduced shifts or having less opportunities for a promotion – if they have to miss work due to a natural disaster or extreme weather event.

With many employees with school-aged children at home for the foreseeable future and all of us learning this new normal to balance work and life in one 24-hour cycle, consider how the above responses could change or be heightened in times like these!

Empower managers to communicate decisions

For employees, their managers are generally their go-to source for this information, but we found that people managers often aren’t empowered to make decisions to help care for employees. Although 75% of employees feel their manager is empowered to make decisions that affect them in the event of a natural disaster, less than half (49%) of employers say people managers are permitted to decide when and how to respond when disaster strikes without waiting for approval from leadership.

In fact, a third (33%) of people managers said that, at their own company, people managers are not authorized to communicate business updates to employees, while 1 in 10 (10%) says they are also not allowed to decide when and how to respond, close a facility, tell employees to go home, tell employees to stay home or re-route them to a different location, or ask people to come back to work after a disaster.

One thing all managers can do, however, is check in with their people. This can’t be understated in times like these – and it’s in the control of the manager to do so. Read this post from The Workforce Institute’s Chris Mullen for tips on managing in these trying times.

Offer people-centric benefits

While we did hear from our respondents that some of their employers plan for employee care under these circumstances, many don’t:

  • While nearly a third (30%) of employers say their organizations would offer paid time off for employees unable to return to work due to a natural disaster or extreme weather, just 40% would allow employees to work from home or decline to work a scheduled shift without recourse.
  • For employees who must be present to do their jobs during a weather emergency or natural disaster, nearly a third (32%) of employers say their organization would offer free meals to staff, more than a quarter (28%) would provide accommodations near the office for employees, and 11% would provide childcare or family care financial assistance.
  • In the event of a natural disaster or extreme weather, 39% of employers say their organization would offer unpaid time off for those who need it; 38% would offer food, shelter, and support services to impacted employees and their families; and 32% would allow employees to donate paid time off to coworkers in need.

Commit to the community

Employers are prepared to care for more than their employees. The study found that in the event of a natural disaster or extreme weather event, more than a quarter would make a corporate financial donation to support impacted employees (28%) or to a charity (25%).

As you can see, there are many similarities and useful insights for organizations during COVID-19. For me, I’m happy to see that there is so much appreciation around us for the gifts we do have. We’re connecting with friends and family via social platforms more than ever. Communities are pulling together to feed, comfort and support those who need their help. We stand in awe of all of the workers in healthcare who are taking care of overwhelming patient loads. And let’s not forget all the essential workers who are still out there doing their jobs that can’t be done from home.

We don’t know how long this will last, but we know what to do in the immediate short term to help each other get through this. Wash your hands. Stay home. And as employers, do what you can to keep your employees safe and informed. We’ve posted resources to help you do just that at Managing Through Times of Uncertainty. Here you’ll find practical guidance on a variety of topics from maximizing productivity while working remotely and maintaining business continuity in a fluid environment, to supporting the well-being of your employees.

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