The 2020 Pandemic has created challenges for everyone. From home schooling, to feeding our families, financial challenges, and even trying to just buy the necessities we need. Add to this simply trying to protect ourselves from catching this deadly virus, and it feels like we are all handling as much as we possible can. But from a business point of view, it seems that HR professionals may be feeling the pain more than most. While employees are trying to adjust to working from home in unprecedented numbers, HR is responsible for ensuring that they have the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently including proper setup to prevent injuries or privacy exposure. In addition, we need to be able to track when employees are working, determine proper pay for changing classifications, determine benefit continuity, comply with new legal requirements, and determine who should be granted leave, laid off or terminated. With all of this to do, it’s not surprising that it is not a primary focus to try to have regular communication with employees, other than the ones that are likely calling and emailing you daily.

I was interested to how employees are responding to all of the changes, so I spent some time talking with both HR professionals and employment attorneys that we work with regularly. I fully expected to hear that the number of calls, concerns and complaints coming in from employees has increased. What I did not expect was just how significant the increase would be. Employees, like all of us, have questions. And many of those questions simply cannot be answered right now.  Questions like:

  •   “When will we be allowed to return to work?”
  •   “If I have to reduce my hours to fit in homeschooling for my children, am I still required to get the same amount of work done?
  • “If I get the virus and I can’t work for 3 or 4 weeks will I get paid?”
  •    “Will our goals for our annual bonus be adjusted to account for the time we were not able to work?”

The good news is, we will get this pandemic under control and we will get back to work. How that will look we are not quite sure, so be honest about that.  That may seem a little frightening, but not nearly as frightening or upsetting as silence.

What you employees need from you the most right now is open, honest and regular communication. Not after they call you because they heard something or received a confusing letter from their healthcare benefits provider, but today.

How HR represents itself now is going to directly impact what the return to work experience will be like when it is time for that to happen. So here is a list of some of the things your employees need from you now. And I promise, every bit of time you spend being proactive in providing information will come back to you two-fold when it is time to return to business as “semi-usual”.

  1. Provide a brief “State of the Business” email informing employees of the current status of the company, what changes have been made, and most importantly how often they can expect to get updates. (This can come from the CEO, but if that isn’t happening, HR should do it.
  2. Provide a periodic email (weekly is best) to include changes in laws they may be hearing about, recommendations from your benefits providers along with contact information, and local and state updated requirements for the public in general.
  3. Give employees a way to be heard. If they do have a complaint or concern, provide a form, special email address or hotline that they can use so at least their issue or concern can be made, even if there is no answer yet or you cannot look into it immediately due to limited resources. Often people just need someone to hear them.
  4. Be honest. Workers have the right and need to be able to plan for whatever may be coming their way. If someone has been laid off, and it is highly unlikely that they will be returned to their position, it may be best to tell them that there is no way to know at this time, and provide them with means within your community to begin searching for another job.

Please know that you are not alone. Find someone you trust that you can talk to about all of the things you are juggling. And do your best, every day, to find one thing that makes you smile.