The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a giant spotlight on all businesses and the internal guidance system they follow to care for employees during times of crisis. Some essential workers are refusing to come to work out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. If you want to have a reliable and respectful partnership with your employees, it is best to acknowledge that everybody’s experience is different and to listen to their concerns. Willingness to set aside ego and listen is the key to igniting courage in employees to return to the workplace. I am going to give you five heartfelt ways to help your employees feel safe when returning to work.
Give your employees the outlet that if they are concerned with the way something is being done, they are encouraged to share it with a manager. When management reaches out to the employees for their thoughts and opinions first, the staff feel valued, trusted, and respected. Seeking out a diversity of views and ideas from your employees will help your executive team build better strategies, solve problems quicker and more effectively. Encouraging employees to speak up and use their own leadership skills will empower them to take ownership and help them feel secure.
Employees’ Legal Rights
Being transparent and letting employees know that you understand their rights will ease their fear of being manipulated by corporate. Show them a copy of the OSH Act that explains that employees can refuse to work if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger. They can see for themselves the legalese that says they can refuse to come to work if “there is a reasonable belief that there is a threat of death or serious physical harm likely to occur if:
• The employee has a specific fear of infection that is based on fact–not just a generalized fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus in the workplace.
• The employer cannot address the employee’s specific fear in a manner designed to ensure a safe working environment.”
Answer all of their questions and discuss their concerns and once they feel respected and heard they will feel better about taking the risk to come back to work.
Assure your employees that any reasonable accommodations will be made to ensure their safety. Offer to install barriers or Plexiglas separators between workstations to support employees with underlying medical conditions that may put them at higher risk from COVID-19. Provide masks, easy-to-access hand sanitizer, and easy-to-see social distancing guidance for them and the customers so it is clear where people should stand. Making it easy for employees to guide customers on appropriate distancing will relieve much of their unnecessary stress.
Trust is increased when employees feel valued and appreciated for the health risk they are taking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing employees for returning to work to support the business during a time of uncertainty shows them that management cares and is listening to their experiences, ideas, and concerns. Saying “thank you” to employees is one way to show gratitude and making sure they have the resources they need to stay safe and comfortable is also a show of respect and appreciation.
Train Everyone in People Skills
Good communication is imperative to gaining trust and commitment from employees. Conflict resolution, clear communication, and team-building skills are rarely taught to employees on a regular basis. Beginning each staff meeting with a quick five-minute training of a new communication skill will keep your team cohesive, confident, and respectful. Creating a consistent training program to teach employees appropriate skills for communicating, holding people accountable, and conflict resolution will keep everyone on a level playing field.
Keep it Positive
Negativity in the workplace can make everything seem harder. Everyone is feeling the stress caused by the COVID-19 virus and reminding employees that they are part of a team that is essential to the community will stoke morale and fuel their courage. Employees with positive attitudes feel connected, committed to the team, and invested in customer service and the success of the company. Employees are more willing to return to a positive environment than one that is filled with negativity, distrust, and risk.
In conclusion, when employees feel they can’t trust their leaders, they feel vulnerable and unsafe. Why should and employees care about the company if they feel that management doesn’t care about them? Helping employees to feel safe at work by providing open communication, proper training, reasonable accommodations, and gratitude will go a long way to calm nervous employees and build a stronger company culture.