Charles Cotton: Supporting employees through times of uncertainty

Charles Cotton

The Coronavirus has plunged businesses into uncertainty and there are reports that millions of jobs could be lost globally as a result of the pandemic. As well as suddenly dealing with financial worries, individuals are concerned about their loved ones getting the virus or contracting it themselves.

Many businesses will not have faced a greater challenge than this one and will not be able to ride out this crisis without government support. However, there are still steps they can take to help their staff.

First and foremost, clear and consistent communication is essential at a time like this. In particular, people will want to know if their pay is affected and how they will be supported to work from home. Even if there are no changes to their pay, people will still appreciate the reassurance.

Employers that have been hit hard by the crisis will need to do more than just communicate, however. The most pressing concern for many people, particularly those in the hospitality sector, is that they will lose their jobs. This should obviously be a last resort for employers and they should be looking at how to reduce their payroll costs in the first instance. Restricting over-time and freezing recruitment are two options to explore.

If employers need to go further, they could freeze pay increases and introduce cuts to bonuses until the crisis passes. Some employers may need to go further still and consider introducing shorter working hours for some, or all, employees.

The other big change for employees, which they will need support with, is that many are now working from home after the government directive. Employers can help to make this switch as easy as possible by ensuring workers have got access to the right IT equipment and anything else they need to get on with their day-to-day roles.

Employers also need to be mindful that working from home can be isolating at times. Managers should be briefed to check in on their teams regularly, and to make use of video calls and other communication tools which allow as much face-to-face interaction as possible. At the same time, employees should be trusted and should not feel like their managers are checking up on them.

Employers should also signpost people to general health and wellbeing tips, and encourage staff to have regular breaks and take time to exercise.

It is unclear how long this crisis will go on for, and now with schools also being closed, showing flexibility and understanding is the best way for employers to help people through this crisis.

Charles Cotton is senior reward and pay adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)