Back to work? Employees need confidence in employers

In the next couple of months, employees will be returning back to offices, production plants and other facilities worldwide. Here’s what they want — and need — to hear from their employers.

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Branimir Balogović |
Branimir Balogović |

Governments all over the world are preparing for the eventual reopening of their states, regions and countries in a post-pandemic economy. Largely describing “Phases” in the U.S., these multi-step plans cover everything from movie theaters and restaurants (opening at partial capacities in the early phases) to events (don’t hold your breath for those concert tickets) to travel (a quagmire no one has quite figured out yet, least of all those who would actually be doing the traveling). It’s a lot to think about as the world remains in the grip of COVID-19, but one thing the phases represent is a larger onus on individuals to decide what’s best for themselves and their families.

When do employees expect to return to work?

Those who have spent the last few months working from home are starting to wonder which phase involves returning to their normal workplace. According to Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, Americans expect to return to work long before they return to any other semblance of normalcy. This month (May 2020) and next (June) are the two months most of those surveyed (Bain U.S. Workers Survey, April 18–25, 2020) expect to head back to their daily commuting lifestyles, and they see themselves going to the office before they can picture themselves at the grocery store, large social events or the airport.

What do employees expect of their employers? Safety and communication

Fortunately for the pet food industry, safety has always been top of mind anyway — find a food-producing facility of any kind not focused on safety at all times and I’ll show you a business not long for this world in the age of consumer accountability (internet justice, as we all know, is swift and largely unforgiving, for better or worse).

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, both anecdotally and via Petfood Industry’s “COVID-19 impacts on the global pet food industry” survey, I’ve seen and heard that the industry considers the health and safety of its workers to be its top concern and priority. According to the same Bain & Company survey, workers are more comfortable returning to work for companies that they believe take their health and safety seriously. In addition, employees who are extremely satisfied with their employer’s COVID-19 communications say they are more comfortable going back to work.

“As companies start to return workers to work sites, they need to implement the appropriate mitigation protocols and support systems to protect their employees, many of whom are eager to get back to work but worry about the risk of getting sick,” said Bain’s Nate Anderson, Michelle Supko and Hernan Saenz.

Employee confidence will spill over to consumer confidence

It’s nearly impossible to predict how everything will look once COVID-19 is contained and the world focuses on its rebuild. But there seems to be some consensus among those primed to analyze business success that the way companies handle this pandemic — from every angle — will have a significant role in said success.

“For an entire generation of business leaders, the actions they take now and in the weeks ahead will define them and their companies,” said Bain’s Saenz and Dunigan O’Keeffe. “And while the impact of this crisis varies across industries and regions, it’s no exaggeration to recognize that this time around, the burden of destiny is real.”

Briefly: Why you should survey your employees during COVID-19

Companies used to surveying their employees annually might be hesitant to do so now, as the responses are likely to reflect these extraordinary times. But, according to Laurie Minott, partner at workplace culture specialist Great Place to Work, this unique situation is precisely why you need to survey your employees right now. Doing so:

  • Reinforces intention of care
  • Gives you crucial insight into how to best support them
  • Helps you navigate the recession

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