CEOs Ponder COVID-Imposed Risks Alongside Employee Retention
For the last 18 months CEOs have struggled to respond to the risks to their workforce and consequently to their business resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Government enacted benefit programs, debates over mandating face coverings, vaccinations, the rising fears of the Delta and other variants of the virus along with information and misinformation on mainstream blasted through social media outlets have only increased the complexity of managing employee concerns and business productivity. In the mist of the pandemic chaos, it’s vital that Human Resources is working with CEOs of small and medium-size companies to take proactive initiatives to engage these issues and manage the hesitation as well as employee fears in the workplace.
More than ever before companies are entrusting their HR functions in the way of outsourcing through reliable HR experts at firms such as Flex HR. At Flex HR we work alongside the CEO, or even take over, to manage the HR responsibilities to lighten their load. Communicating often and appropriately with employees during these challenging times have been key to lessen their anxieties and allow them to feel in the know.
Actions companies are taking to engage employee uncertainty and fears:
- Schedule Lunch-and- Learn sessions on specific, rather than general, topics of employee concerns.
- Organize subject matter to target specific employee demographics are most useful; for example, sessions devoted to parents of school aged children, young adults 25-40 risk factors, pros and cons of requiring vaccinations, testing before returning to the workplace, workplace safety guidelines, working remotely, myths, and facts about COVID-19 variants.
- Be mindful that employees have different issues that evoke anxiety based on their specific circumstances. Meeting or lunch-and-Learn program themes and agendas should be announced in advance and employees encouraged to anonymously submit questions they may have prior to the session.
- Have written information on the session objectives prepared before the scheduled session. Consider allowing employee to invite their spouse.
- A subject matter expert should be available to answer questions or moderate the session. The subject matter expert can be available in person or virtually.
- Always offer attending employees the opportunity to have an individual meeting with HR or the subject matter expert to ask specific questions following the session.
- If in person, have snacks and drinks available for each session.
Keep in mind employee stress levels that trigger anxiety may have its source not directly tied to COVID-19 workplace issues but related to family or personal issues they are experiencing. The workplace health and safety issues may be exacerbating anxiety caused by underlining personal stress factors. If this is expressed or suspected by the employee, HR should refer the employee to the EAP or appropriate community services.
The failure to proactively engage employees through such heavy COVID concerns have will have a negative impact on the business and ripple across many critical Human Resource processes including employee retention, talent recruiting, performance and productivity, employee relations, confidence in corporate leadership and commitment to corporate cultural norms and values. Despite whatever criticism employers may feel their employees have concerning the company’s management, employees trust and expect that their corporate leaders will protect their well-being and listen to their concerns when they feel their personal safety in the workplace is at risk. Given the extended period of the COVID pandemic, business leaders are struggling to ensure production levels and retain key employees to warrant the survivability of the business. Retention of experienced and demonstrated talent is the priority of employee engagement.
How Can I Keep My Employees?
This is the question that today keeps CEOs awake at night as they struggle to respond to their workforce concerns about COVID risks in the workplace. To respond to their apprehensions many corporate leaders have implemented work from home policies, COVID screening procedures for employees returning to the office, reengineering workflow, offering bonuses and other perks to encourage employees to get vaccinated. These efforts along with others have met with limited success at best to assuage employee fears and continue to pose the risk of quality employees, critical to the success of the company, to leave for greener and more secure pastures.
Retention of employees requires more than policy and procedural changes. It requires an internal strategic engagement process aimed at getting employee ownership of the initiatives that affect their safety and productivity in the workplace. During periods of significant workplace stress, several important dynamics are in play.  Under stressful conditions employees will always seek stress-reduction strategies within the organization if possible or external to the organization if necessary,  Employees will always seek control of their work environment in an effort to moderate stress,  Employees will reach out to peers rather than managers to seek stress reduction support,  Confidence in management will continue to erode until stress-reduction initiative are successful and  Past positive perception of the company will not be sufficient to stem the erosion of confidence in corporate leadership as stress persists.
To encourage employee retention several internal strategic initiatives are offered. The more employees are engaged in addressing the cause of stress in the workplace and shaping initiatives to moderate its impact on them the more likely they are to follow them. The more employees own the solutions to workplace problems and issues, the greater likelihood their stress will be reduced along with the likelihood they will leave the company.
Here are the major components of an internal strategic initiative:
- Opinion Leader Identification: Every company has employees that have earned the trust and confidence of other employees. They are often opinion leaders that may or may not be managers, supervisors, or the most experienced workers. In times of stress and uncertainty they are the individuals in the organization whose judgement is respected and trusted. Collectively they represent a major resource to support the retention of employees.
- Group Selection and Purpose: Group selection should be limited to 6-10 employee opinion leaders, constituted for a specific period, and purpose. The group should be convened by HR or a member of the leadership team. The stated charge to the group is as follows:
1. Given the stress levels experienced by our employees due to the COVID impact on our business, what can/should the company do that it has not done to reduce stress to our employees?
2. What can/should the company do to ensure retention of our employees in addition to any actions designed to address COVID-related stress and concerns?
- Opinion leader input and recommendations should be documented and presented to the executive leadership for review and approval.
- Any recommendation not approved by the executive leadership group should be documented and feedback provided to the opinion leader group.
- The input of the opinion leader group should be sought concerning how any approved recommendation is implemented by the company.
- Working with opinion leader groups on important matters of employee concern is a double-edge sword. If the commitments made by executive management based on the recommendations of opinion leaders are abrogated, trust in management will be significantly eroded and risk to retention will increase.
Therefore, it is so important to remember the company’s culture, norms and values championed and demonstrated by the leadership and management of the company provides the framework for promoting effective retentions strategies.
Written by: Dr. John Cascone, Sr Vice President
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