By Andrea Lebron - December 29, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many employers to reconsider their duty of care responsibilities. Whereas previously, most duty of care provision was centered around the physical wellbeing of employees in the workplace, employers now not only have to safeguard employees' on-premises physical health, but also their off-premises mental health.
Employers have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways depending on the nature of their operations and the feasibility of remote working. For example, some manufacturing plants take the temperatures of employees prior to the start of each shift, impose one-way traffic systems to better manage employee flow, and stagger breaks to minimize social contact.
In cases where remote working is not possible – or where a hybrid working schedule exists - many office environments have been de-densified to support social distancing measures. Other recently implemented COVID-19 related provisions include the appearance of hygiene stations and limitations on how many employees can ride an elevator at the same time.
What's interesting to note is that, rather than being mandated by state or federal laws, employers have taken it upon themselves to implement duty of care provisions and mitigate the risk of employees contracting the virus. While there is evidence to support a correlation between duty of care provision and profitability, employers have effectively become duty of care leaders.
Watch: Employee Communication Obstacles in a Post-COVID Workspace
Whatever the nature of a business´s operations, duty of care leadership will be more challenging in 2021 due to COVID-19 fatigue – not so much the lingering fatigue those who have “recovered” from COVID-19 often report, but more the caution fatigue people experience when they become desensitized to infection warnings, or exhausted from following them.
According to Doctor Anthony Fauci, life could return to the “normality close to where we were before” by the end of 2021 if 75% to 80% of the population is vaccinated by the summer. However, with up to a third of essential workers being “vaccination hesitant”, and a potential shortage of vaccines by next summer, the pandemic may still be with us into the second quarter of 2022.
If the pandemic continues throughout 2021, this will likely cause an increase in employees becoming complacent, following duty of care provisions less carefully, and distancing less cautiously. In addition to the risk this presents to increased rates of infection, it could also cause tension between employees, increased workplace bullying, and/or significant mental health issues.
In October 2020, the World Health Organization published a Pandemic Fatigue guide with the intention of “reinvigorating the public to prevent COVID-19”. Although designed for governments, the advice in the guide is equally as relevant for duty of care leaders in tackling caution fatigue in employees. For example, the organization´s recommended four key strategies are:
It is not difficult for duty of care leaders to adapt these strategies to suit their organizational requirements. For example, businesses can conduct SMS virtual wellness checks to measure the physical and mental health of employees, and tailor effective policies as required. Provided a reason is given for the wellness checks, and responses are dealt with consistently and transparently, employees should have no objection to answering a simple Q&A text every day.
The same channel of communication can be utilized to remotely conduct employee surveys on their perceptions about the effectiveness of corporate restrictions, distribute continuous updates, or educate employees on public health risks as discussed in this blog. Not only does this engage and involve employees, but the responses duty of care leaders receive can help identify employees who are experiencing hardship that may affect their ability to be productive elements of the workforce.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, people had more trust in their employer than the government or media, and businesses can use this trust to prepare employees for the challenges that lay ahead. It has already been mentioned businesses can use mass SMS notification tools to conduct employee surveys, distribute continuous updates, and educate employees on public health risks; and these communications should set reasonable expectations about the challenges employees will face.
Employees need to be told the consequences of the pandemic may be in place for a year or more; and that, during this time, there may be increased tension, bullying, and mental health issues in the workplace. To help predict when these challenges may manifest - and address them before they become serious issues - businesses can equip employees with tip texting apps to anonymously and discretely report concerns in and out of the workplace.
It is also the case that public-facing employees may not only face challenges from colleagues but also from customers who are experiencing caution fatigue. To protect employees from situations in which they may face the risk of injury from ordinarily rational customers acting unpredictably, business should equip public-facing employees with mobile panic button apps to report threats to managers; or - if a situation escalates quickly – to call 9-1-1 with two taps of a smartphone screen.
Andrea is Rave's Director of Digital Marketing, a master brainstormer and avid coffee drinker. Andrea joined Rave in August 2017, after 10 years of proposal and corporate marketing at an environmental engineering firm. You'll find her working with her amazing team in writing and producing blogs like this one, improving your journey to and through our website, and serving you up the best email content. When she's not in front of a keyboard, she's chasing after her three daughters or indulging in her husband's latest recipe. Andrea has a Bachelor's degree in Marketing/Management from Northeastern University and an MBA from Curry College.
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