How to get employees back to work safely during COVID-19
As our economy continues to restart and companies resume in-person operations, employee health is a top concern for business leaders across the state. And it’s not just the direct threat of COVID-19 that needs to be addressed. The mental and emotional demands of working in today’s environment can have a serious impact on employee morale and productivity. Here are some steps you can take to protect the health and efficiency of your workplace.
Start by understanding the concerns of your employees
It’s important to understand that, whether they show it or not, all employees are facing unique challenges and have a range of concerns that reflect their individual situations. Concerns can range from child care and schooling conflicts to anxiety about their physical health and that of their families.
Financial pressure can also be a source of tension. Commission-based employees who have lost wages may feel like they need to be more productive to make up for lost time. Even if an employee’s job status has been secure throughout the pandemic, a contributing member of their household may recently have been laid off or furloughed, resulting in lost income.
Concerns like these, combined with the feelings of loneliness and isolation brought on by critical public health actions such as social distancing, all add up to physical, mental and emotional stress. That stress has a tangible effect on employee productivity, workplace morale and your company’s bottom line. And while you may not be able to resolve all your employees’ concerns, your willingness to understand and offer support when needed can make your organization stronger.
Continue to encourage good self-care
Being proactive is a smart way to stay ahead of potential health problems in your workplace. A great place to begin is by encouraging employees to continue taking care of themselves. This means giving them the opportunities and the reassurance they need to do things that can contribute to both their physical and mental health. Consider doing the following:
- Encourage good habits like taking walks around the building, packing healthy lunches, going outside for conference calls and doing stretches to relieve tension
- Keep them informed of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations like proper techniques for hand-washing and best practices for keeping their work areas clean
- Stress the importance of staying home from work if they feel sick and making an effort to connect with their doctors either in person or digitally
- Urge everyone to get enough sleep so they can stay focused in the office and on the road to and from work
- Cultivate a culture of positivity throughout your organization by savoring small accomplishments, amplifying positive stories and staying optimistic
You also want to make sure employees are still taking time off to recharge. According to Melissa Gardner, executive vice president at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, this is something everyone needs to do: “Even if a traditional vacation is not possible, try to enjoy a long weekend or take a Wednesday off to break up the week.”
And whatever you do to encourage good self-care, make sure you also practice it yourself. By offering a positive example and keeping employees engaged in their health and wellness, you can ensure they’re at their best, leading to higher morale and increased productivity.
Help your workers reconnect with their doctors
With some people still reluctant to seek in-person care because of anxiety about the pandemic, it’s important to ensure your workers have alternate means of staying in contact with health professionals. That’s where telehealth comes in. The ability to connect with doctors from the comfort of a patient’s own home – while still practicing social distancing – can be critical for people with health issues.
Telehealth doesn’t just apply to medical services either. Employees can use telehealth to access behavioral health services through their normal doctor along with many third-party providers included with some insurance plans. They can even schedule recurring telehealth appointments with the same therapist for added convenience.
In the first four months of 2020, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield estimates that New Yorkers used their telehealth benefits 2.6 million times – up from 290,000 times throughout all of 2019. “The spike we’ve witnessed this year in the use of telehealth is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Stephen Cohen, M.D., senior vice president and corporate medical director at Excellus BCBS. “I believe that we’ll look back on this crisis as the trigger event that forever changed the way health care services are delivered.”
Check with your company’s health insurance provider to ensure your employees have access to telehealth. You can also consider digital health management tools that allow your employees to text or video chat with licensed health professionals from the comfort of their home and at a time that works for them. Either way, by enabling them to receive medical or behavioral health care from home, you can protect the health of your workplace and reduce the stress of seeking medical attention in the current climate.
Work together to make health a priority
Supporting your employees through this difficult time requires encouragement and constant reminders on the importance of good health. But you don’t have to do it all by yourself. There are online resources available that can help amplify your efforts. Look to trusted sources like the CDC, your health insurance provider and your local and state government for recommendations, best practices and information on what to do if you or an employee is exposed to COVID-19. You can even take advantage of digital toolkits with printable posters to display throughout your workplace so you can pass this valuable information on to your employees.
By keeping everyone informed and doing everything in your power to address the concerns of your workforce, you can be confident that your team has the support they need to stay safe as they return to work. So, remember to stay focused on health, and if your workers have access to valuable benefits like telehealth and digital health management tools, consider encouraging their use. Most importantly, make sure your team knows that you are all in this together and you’ll get through it as a team.