Now that the World Health Organization has officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, organizations have to consider how they can contribute to minimizing infection and preventing their workplace from becoming a nexus of contagion. Most importantly, taking action is a moral imperative in a time of emergency, but it is also a way of mitigating the financial toll on businesses—and a negative ripple effect in the larger economy—if leaders keep their workforce healthy and productive. Harvard Business Review has an excellent primer on the issues affecting organizations around the world.
Some of the study results and recommendations are obvious: provide a hygienic workspace, require that sick employees stay home, reduce business travel, and encourage telecommuting if possible. Less obvious, perhaps, is the movement toward improving supervisor understanding of company policies and infection control. Like any challenge, the threat of COVID-19 should inspire a chain of clear communication and clarity among workers about what to do in different situations. Radio silence on any issue creates a vacuum of information that will quickly invite damaging rumors, especially in a time of uncertainty and anxiety. In particular, any changes made to policies and procedures in response to the pandemic require immediate, unambiguous, and widespread communication.
Among these changes, for example, might be alterations to sick-leave policies that encourage workers to stay home if they do not feel well. As the HBR article states, “Policies that give employees confidence that they will not be penalized and can afford to take sick leave are an important tool in encouraging self-reporting and reducing potential exposure.” If more flexibility in sick leave, paid or unpaid, seems like an additional financial strain on your organization, consider the potentially devastating cost of having an outbreak in your workplace because someone didn’t think it was okay to stay home when sick.
The HBR article was written on March 2, and while its information is still critically important and has since been updated on March 15, it was originally published prior to the pandemic declaration. The situation is changing fast, and the efficiency with which your organization implements safeguards will determine how well it weathers this storm. I encourage you to continue protecting and reassuring your workers during this difficult time. And at TGC, we will always be available to help support leaders, teams, and organizations through this challenging time.
For more information on COVID-19 prevention and control, please visit the official CDC website.