Remote Workers Experiencing Burnout

With many employees working remotely, productivity may decrease and the feeling of being burnt out may increase. As working remotely continues to draw out through many months, many employees may continue to feel this way, as well. Read this blog post to learn more.


Recent polling shows a significant share of the U.S. workforce is feeling burned out after more than two months of working from home during the coronavirus outbreak.

About half of 1,251 respondents in a survey conducted in May by job-search and careers website Monster said they were experiencing burnout. Even before COVID-19 upended workers' lives, the World Health Organization had classified burnout as an "occupational phenomenon" and a hazard.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work, where we work, resulted in clashes between our work and home lives like we've never had before, and really has become a big stressor," said Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting, a Washington, D.C.-based management consulting firm.

Binita Amin, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., warned that the dangers of burnout are typically greater than just feeling stressed. "Stress is something that is resolved and has some sort of closure, and with burnout there's no real end in sight, so it's significant and chronic in nature," she said. "What happens over time is you start to see that a person's mental, physical and emotional resources are exhausted and depleted. In the work context, you can see it in terms of decreased productivity, difficulty concentrating, and certainly feelings of disillusionment or cynicism."

In a survey of 1,000 workers polled by Eagle Hill in April, 50 percent said they feel less connected to colleagues, 45 percent feel less productive, and 36 percent feel less positive about their careers.

The particular stressors brought on by COVID-19 include overworking and adapting to new ways of working; caring for children in the absence of school or day care; job insecurity; health concerns; isolation; and the lack of clear boundaries between work and home, said Vicki Salemi, a careers expert for Monster based in New York City. "People have also lost many of the ways they used to manage stress, such as spending time with friends, going to concerts and sporting events, and going to the gym," she said.

The Monster poll did find that almost three-quarters of respondents (71 percent) are making an effort to take time for themselves during the workday, such as taking a break or going for a walk. But over half of respondents (52 percent) said they are not planning to take extended time off or vacation despite facing burnout.

Salemi said that people may be reluctant to book a vacation because of financial reasons, the fear of being perceived as not being productive, or concerns about public safety. "Some people are just not ready to go to the beach, while other destinations, like amusement parks, are not really open for business," she said.

"Even if you're not going anywhere, you earned PTO [paid time off], and you should take it," she encouraged. "Using PTO doesn't necessarily mean you have to get on an airplane and fly away somewhere. It can mean taking a staycation. Perhaps people are thinking, 'Well, I'm already home, and I don't need a staycation,' but the reality is that we all need to log off."

She said there are ways to creatively take PTO, such as taking off every Monday or Friday in the month of July, for example.

Employers' Role

Employers can play a big part in helping address burnout among their employees, experts said. Affinity groups and employee assistance programs should be promoted as helpful resources, but there's even more that managers can do, according to Amin. "There's real opportunity to empower your employees to feel more sense of control over things like schedules, workload and types of work assignments, and even influencing things like meaningful connection," she said.

Lack of control is a prime factor of burnout, Jezior said. "Right now, there is a lot outside of our control. But I think one way we can help ground employees is to give them the autonomy and the ownership over how and when they complete their work."

Salemi recommended getting feedback from employees about their workload and work-from-home processes to make sure expectations are aligned and they feel supported. She stressed that managers and leadership should lead by example and encourage employees to take advantage of flexible work options.

"Make an announcement to the team or the organization that it's OK to take time off, even without having someplace to travel to," she said. "Encourage them to take time off."

SOURCE; Maurer, R. (29 May 2020) "Remote Workers Experiencing Burnout" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/remote-workers-experiencing-burnout.aspx


5 Ways to Demonstrate Your Value — Remotely

When working remotely for an extended amount of time, many employees can feel as if they are not visible to the organization. Read this blog post for helpful tips on how to show value, while working remotely.


With unemployment levels at the highest since the Great Depression, many individuals don’t have the privilege of working, and those who do feel nervous about how long they’ll have that opportunity.

If you fall into the latter category, I can appreciate your very legitimate concern. Many companies are struggling to bring in revenue, let alone turn a profit. And with remote working arrangements, you don’t have the visibility with your colleagues and managers that you normally would. When you were in the office, you might have had informal interactions with these individuals multiple times a day. Now, if you don’t have a meeting on their calendar, you may wonder if they remember your presence — and more importantly, your importance to the organization.

I can’t guarantee that your position is secure, and there will certainly be factors outside your control. But there are ways that you can make yourself and your accomplishments more visible to your organization, even when you’re not in the same building. The following suggestions are five concrete steps that you can focus on right here, right now, to increase your odds of thriving in your job during this tumultuous time and demonstrating your value while working remotely.

Do Your Work

Getting your work done is always a good idea. But especially in times where businesses and organizations are having to make hard decisions about who to keep, doing your work — and doing your work well — is essential.

As a time management coach, I’ve been working with clients throughout this time of uncertainty. (Thankfully, I was already remote!) And the sense I am getting is that there was a grace period in March and part of April as individuals were adjusting to working from home. Managers were more forgiving if there was a dip in productivity or missteps here and there. But now that it’s been multiple months of remote work, higher standards of output are returning. If you haven’t done so already, put a system in place for keeping track of your tasks and ticking them off, even if your schedule is modified because you have other responsibilities at home.

Tell Others

I don’t recommend that you give yourself a shout out at every single meeting, and I definitely don’t advise that you take undue credit for others’ work. But if you have accomplished something significant, share it. That could look like covering a few highlights of your work with your boss each week, either in your one-on-one or through email. Or speaking up in a meeting to share about what your team is doing. Or even giving a presentation on some best practices that could help other colleagues in a similar role. Focus on not only what you did but how it produced positive results for your organization. This is not bragging but simply informing others about how, even though they might not see you working, you’re getting great things accomplished. And this gives you increased visibility across the organization as people understand the role that you fill and the value you add.

Help Your Boss

Although you don’t want to overload yourself with extra work to the extent that you burn out or can’t keep your commitments, look for ways to make your boss’s life easier. For instance, turn in your work early so your manager has extra time to review it before a meeting, or be extra prepared in your one-on-one meetings so they are as concise and effective as possible. These little things help reduce the pressure on your boss, so they are not worried about whether you’ll deliver and if you’re on top of your work. And if you have extra capacity, offer to help with extra assignments or take work completely off of your manager’s plate. This shows that you’re not only someone who gets their work done but also someone who takes initiative. Although your immediate supervisor doesn’t always have a say in layoff decisions, if they do, they’ll put in a good word for you if you’re making things easier for them.

Play Nicely

With my clients, one of their least favorite ways to spend their time is in brokering arguments between people on their team. It drains energy, and they generally consider it a waste of time.

Spread Positivity

One very unfortunate outcome of this season is that it’s brought out some very anti-social behavior in people. Many people’s response to their own fear is controlling others. I’ve seen more vicious online behavior and more people yelling at strangers in public in the last two months than I’ve seen in my entire life. And since the biggest subject on most people’s minds and on all media coverage is Covid-19 — an anxiety-producing topic for most — the air has been tainted with the stench of negativity.

As a bonus, if you can be humorous, do so. Laughter and positive energy draw teams together and make people feel good about being around you. While doing good work and being a positive presence doesn’t guarantee your position will make the cut as you face layoffs, it does increase your odds because you’re demonstrating your value to the organization and the people around you.

Much of what happens with the job market and your particular job will be out of your hands. You can’t control what businesses are considered essential or not, nor can you control organizational changes and headcount. And there are many factors in place that determine the market demand for your work. However, if you follow the five pieces of advice above, you will do what you can to make the most impact and get credit for it within your current role. And you’ll make a positive impression in the process.

SOURCE: Saunders, E. (01 June 2020) "5 Ways to Demonstrate Your Value — Remotely" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/06/5-ways-to-demonstrate-your-value-remotely


COVID-19 will disrupt many established workplace trends

 


Over the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has altered almost every aspect of how people around the world live their lives and do their jobs. In the months to come, it will continue to disrupt and transform routines. Sooner or later, though, the emergency will end. Lots of things will go back to the way they were before January 2020. Some won’t.

So much has already been written and said about the latter group of possibilities that I hesitate to add to the cacophony. But it may lend some structure to the discussion to sort the changes to come into three broad categories.

The first involves pre-existing trends that are being accelerated by the pandemic. The second involves trends that have been reversed by the pandemic. Then there’s … everything else.

Perhaps the most obvious case of a trend being accelerated by the pandemic is working from home. Doing so was actually more common back when tens of millions of Americans still lived on farms, shopkeepers lived above their stores and women sewed garments at home for piecework rates. But since 2000, which is around when broadband internet access began to become widely available, white-collar workers have driven a rise in the percentage of American workers who say they usually do their jobs from home, from 3.3% to 5.3%.

The percentage is a lot higher than that right now! Only 29% of employed Americans said they could work from home in a 2017-2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. But given that those who can’t work remotely have been laid off or furloughed in huge numbers since March, nearly half of those who now have jobs in the U.S. have likely been doing them from home, estimates Adam Ozimek of the online labor marketplace Upwork.

My guess is that many of these people will be eager to return to the office when the pandemic is over. But large office buildings may not go back to full-scale operation for quite a while, and by the time they do many employers will have rethought their office-space needs, many workers will have rethought their commutes and many organizations small and large will have discovered new ways to collaborate from afar, with all sorts of consequences for office dynamics, business travel, commercial real estate and maybe even the shape of urban growth.

This growing freedom to work from somewhere other than the office will be empowering and liberating for some. But working remotely is for the most part a privilege of the affluent and educated, and some of the other trends getting a boost from COVID-19 don’t seem all that favorable for workers. For example, industry after industry in the U.S. has been growing more concentrated since 2000, and new-business formation has been on the decline a lot longer than that.

Yes, young companies gained a little ground in 2015 and 2016. But a new data series from the Census Bureau indicates that the formation of new businesses with hiring plans is down 32% since mid-March versus the same period last year, so that resurgence is over for now. Any economic downturn is going to favor strong companies over weak ones, but the particulars of this one seem to favor the giants even more than usual. Big tech companies are strengthening their grip as the pandemic progresses, and the fact that the five biggest such companies in the U.S. — Microsoft, Apple, Amazon.com, Alphabet and Facebook — account for more than 20% of the value of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and nearly 50% of the Nasdaq Composite Index explains a lot about the resilience of the stock market amid economic calamity. Buyout firms that target troubled companies have also been seeing big stock-market gains. Consolidation is accelerating, and while conditions for those employed by giant, profitable companies in technology and some other sectors can be pretty great, the overall bargaining power of workers suffers.

Another workplace trend of long standing is increased automation. Fears of a rapid, massive displacement of humans by robots haven’t yet been realized, but machines have been taking over human tasks for centuries, and the pandemic seems likely to accelerate this process, especially for jobs that involve people performing physical labor in close proximity to one another — from meatpacking plants to Amazon warehouses to, perhaps, commercial kitchens. The need for distancing will eventually abate, but once companies invest in machines that do some or all of the work, those machines are unlikely to go away. There’s also been a rush to enlist 3-D printers to solve temporary supply-chain problems that will likely lead to their permanent, often-labor-replacing use. Such innovations can drive the productivity growth that improves living standards, not to mention displace jobs that are objectively awful, so this isn’t all bad news. But short-term it again reduces workers’ bargaining power.

So much for trends that are being accelerated. The most dramatic reversal so far has been the end to the long rise of employment in leisure and hospitality. The sector, which includes restaurants, hotels, casinos, museums, gyms, sports teams and, of course, bowling alleys, accounted for almost a quarter of U.S. payroll job growth over the course of the just-ended expansion — and lost almost half of its jobs between March and April.

The damage to the industry is severe and will persist for quite a while. If government efforts to keep these businesses on life support falter, it could take many years to repair. But once the threat of the coronavirus has passed, or receded into the background of seasonal respiratory ailments, almost everyone is going to want to hang out with friends, go to restaurants, sports events and shows, and travel again. The upward trend will surely resume; the big question is just where the starting point will be.

 

A lot of the biggest questions about the post-coronavirus work environment will be answered by political action or the lack thereof. Will the failures of the mostly job-based U.S. health-insurance system in a job-destroying pandemic lead to major reforms? Will the greater toll the pandemic has exacted on the disadvantaged encourage efforts to reduce economic inequality? Will the safety net be reformed to address the effects of automation? Will renewed antitrust enforcement counter the trend toward consolidation? Or do I have the direction of change all wrong here, and what we should really expect is more government dysfunction and maybe some tax cuts? I DON’T KNOW! And nobody else does, either. Predicting what might happen seems far less useful than working to bring about the change you want to see.

SOURCE: Fox, J. (15 May 2020) "COVID-19 will disrupt many established workplace trends" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/covid-19-wont-change-everything-for-workers-right


Virus impact may extend to 57 million U.S. jobs

Did you know: the coronavirus pandemic has caused more than 26 million employees to file for unemployment. As the coronavirus continues to spread, many employees are still at a loss for jobs. Read this blog post to learn more.


The coronavirus pandemic will hurt 57 million U.S. workers, more than double the number of jobless claims so far, once furloughs and reduced hours and pay are included, according to McKinsey.

The more than 26 million people who have filed unemployment claims in the past five weeks provide only a partial picture of workforce dislocations, with tens of millions more facing additional risks, according to a report by economists including Susan Lund at the McKinsey Global Institute, the think tank arm of the consultancy.

The earliest wave of unemployment claims in mid-March disproportionately hit the food service, entertainment and hotel industries. The disruption has since moved into categories including retail, business services, manufacturing and non-essential health care.

There’s significant overlap between workers who are vulnerable because of the virus and those whose jobs were already at risk from automation, providing a challenge for the U.S. to train at-risk employees for more sustainable job opportunities.

Low-wage, part-time and minority workers are the most likely to be hurt by the pandemic, with 74% of at-risk jobs paying less than $40,000 a year, according to McKinsey’s analysis. But the number of full-time and white-collar positions being affected is rising, with 16% of vulnerable workers making more than $70,000 a year.

“It’s really the people who are generally lowest paid, less educated and least prepared to weather a spell of unemployment that are most at risk,” Lund said in a phone interview.

Education is the strongest demographic predictor of vulnerability, with people who don’t have bachelor’s degrees twice as likely to hold such jobs.

Companies can help by reducing hours and temporarily furloughing workers rather than firing them, McKinsey said. They also should offer greater flexibility to parents working from home and find ways to reconfigure office spaces to prevent a new virus outbreak. State workforce agencies can help provide training and education opportunities for the unemployed, McKinsey said.

SOURCE: Martin, E. (01 May 2020) "Virus impact may extend to 57 million U.S. jobs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/virus-impact-may-extend-to-57-million-u-s-jobs


How Managers Are Handling Performance Reviews During COVID-19

With many employees working from home during this coronavirus pandemic, many HR managers are facing unknown challenges in supervising employees and implementing performance reviews from afar. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


As millions of Americans work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, managers unaccustomed to supervising employees from afar face challenges in evaluating performance and providing good feedback.

"Most of the components of our performance reviews have been discarded during the coronavirus crisis," said Mike Falahee, chief executive officer at Marygrove Awning Co. in Livonia, Mich. "After all, how can we review someone who can't do their job the way they're accustomed to doing it?"

Shifting Tactics

No doubt, many company leaders share that sentiment as the world of work has changed swiftly in the past eight weeks. In that time, many companies have shifted to remote-only operations.

According to a Gallup survey, the percentage of workers who say their employer offered them flextime or remote-work options grew from 39 percent in mid-March to 57 percent by early April.

Additionally, 62 percent of employed Americans say they've "worked from home during the crisis, a number that has doubled since mid-March," according to Gallup.

Company leaders and managers say several strategies—some that were in place before the virus, some that are new—have helped them measure workforce production in the age of COVID-19.

Kerry Norman is vice president of talent solutions at CHG Software in Salt Lake City. Several years ago, CHG decided to ditch its traditional annual performance reviews for front-line employees.

"We found that it was ineffective for several reasons," Norman said. "First, it was a look backward, so it didn't help improve future performance. Second, it wasn't an effective measurement tool because assessments varied so greatly from one leader to the next. Third, it was disengaging for employees. It felt more like a judgment than a motivational tool."

Now the company focuses on providing "in-the-moment" feedback, and that has proved helpful during the virus.

"We want people to know what they're doing right and where they can improve, rather than waiting until the end of the year when it's too late to do anything about it," Norman said.

Shifting Roles

The pandemic is also forcing everyone at CHG, managers as well as their staff, to be more flexible. That means employees are taking on new roles, some for which they've never been trained. And managers must show flexibility when evaluating these workers, allowing time for a learning curve and understanding that there will be hiccups.

"Our people are now learning their skills can be used in ways they never knew existed, and they're helping in areas of the company that may have been foreign to them just weeks ago," Norman said.

Andres Lares is a managing partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute in Baltimore. Before the virus hit, the company conducted formal reviews once a year. Now, Lares said, his firm's managers check in with workers weekly.

Moreover, his firm's managers have, for now, stopped evaluating employees based on the revenue they generate. Instead, he said, "we want to see our marketing team reach out to more people than ever via phone or e-mail during this time. In doing so, we're not emphasizing sales and revenue in the short term, but we are tracking demonstrated thought leadership from our employees that leads to more sales" in the future.

Adem Selita is chief executive officer at the Debt Relief Co. in New York City, which already had an automated performance system that tracked employees' metrics by the day, week, month and year.

With COVID-19 shaking up the company's office culture, that system has changed. These days, each performance review is scheduled more than a week in advance and employees are sent a template to fill out with instructions. Employees send back their responses for the manager to look over and use as a guide during the review.

"While time is still spent on going over output, the emphasis now is on what the employee needs help with, what they'd like to work on, ultimately with three takeaways the employee will focus on and discuss in the next review with their manager," Selita said.

Communication Challenges

Following this new performance review blueprint hasn't been easy during the pandemic.

"The biggest setback at first was communications," he said. "We're moving from a management culture where leaders are steps away from an employee's desk to a scenario where leadership isn't physically present. That leads to many questions not being asked [by the manager or employee] until it comes time for performance reviews."

On the upside, managers have noted new opportunities to discuss performance more broadly.

"With traditional performance reviews, employees were using much of their allotted time discussing small-ticket items, leaving them with little time to focus on development and what they can do better," Selita said. "By establishing more regular check-ins, we've found that employees are leaving sessions feeling more capable and motivated than ever."

Ken Eulo is a founding partner at Smith & Eulo Law Firm in Orlando, Fla. His firm has decided to push back performance reviews entirely during the coronavirus crisis.

"We believe it's unfair to hold employees to the same standards during this outbreak," he said. "The economy is suffering, and we are offering limited services as a firm. Consequently, we have completely halted performance reviews for the time being, as we can't find reasonable parameters to measure each employee's performance due to the circumstances."

Eulo said his firm will resume performance reviews when its services return to normal.

"For the time being, we are trusting employees to hold themselves accountable," he said.

SOURCE: O'Connell, B. (28 April 2020) "How Managers Are Handling Performance Reviews During COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/performance-reviews-during-coronavirus-.aspx


The Performance Review Process Can Be a Lot Easier. Here’s How.


The annual performance review has long been a fraught ritual that both managers and employees dread. Now that it's evolved, in many companies, into a less formal, yearlong process often called a "continual conversation," managers face new challenges.

Perhaps most notably, managers are now saddled with more work: conducting check-ins with multiple employees twice a month, holding quarterly meetings that can include feedback from colleagues and subordinates, writing detailed reports, and analyzing feedback surveys. The annual meeting about salary and bonuses remains on the docket as well.

"It can be a big problem," said Brian Kropp, a human resources expert at the Gartner Group, a Connecticut-based research and advisory company. "Managers spend an average of 210 hours per year on performance management, and our data shows their No. 1 frustration with the process is how time-consuming it is."

Experts say there are several ways to make this new era of performance reviews less cumbersome. For example, managers should get employees more invested in the process by having them do the bulk of the prep work for the check-ins and meetings. Managers should also act more like coaches and make the frequent sessions less formal, with an emphasis on keeping them collaborative. And they should use feedback technology to automate more parts of the process.

As far as workload goes, "you don't have to take all that responsibility on yourself," said Dick Grote, a Texas-based management consultant who has worked at General Electric, United Airlines and Frito-Lay. "Put that work on the employee."

Give employees standard templates and frameworks with directed questions to answer. These questions can include "What are my priorities right now?," "What obstacles am I running into?" and "What feedback have I received?"

Managers can also change the dynamic that is typically associated with the process. BJ Gallagher, a Los Angeles-based workplace consultant who has worked with IBM, John Deere and Chrysler, has seen many performance evaluations get bogged down by a judgmental and adversarial interaction. She said managers can improve employee performance more effectively and efficiently by using a collaborative approach, and that can start with the initial conversation in the yearlong check-in process. "The start of the year is when mutual goals can be established as a manager-employee team looking together at the big projects on the horizon," she said. "Use that check-in session to establish three to five goals and stay away from subjective behavioral goals. Make them measurable."

To that end, managers should approach the process like "a great coach, not a traditional boss," said Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy in the workplace management division of Gallup. "It's about changing their lens and thinking about what a great coach looks like."

Studies show that employee performance improves when managers give workers meaningful feedback and make the conversations more team-oriented. For instance, managers can get an employee's peers to give feedback. Peer input can help reduce some of the burden on the manager and emphasize the team aspect of the process.

But Kropp pointed out that there is a downside to peer feedback: It can be vulnerable to bias, especially when the input is given in an "open box" format. "We suggest organizations direct peer feedback with targeted questions about specific actions and outcomes," he said.

Another tool to make the process more manageable is feedback technology. For instance, a manager can formally capture all performance conversations and feedback in the organization's human capital management system, Kropp said.

Ultimately, revamping the process from an annual review to a yearlong conversation should lead to less work for managers, not more, consultants said.

SOURCE: Rosenkrantz, H. (28 April 2020) "The Performance Review Process Can Be a Lot Easier. Here’s How." (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/ongoing-performance-reviews-.aspx


What to Do When Scared Workers Don’t Report to Work Due to COVID-19

Throughout the globe, many are terrified of contracting the communicable disease, the coronavirus. With this being said, many essential workers are refusing to go to work with that fear in their minds. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Some essential workers are refusing to come to work out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. Their employers must weigh the employees' legal rights and understandable health concerns with the organizations' business needs. It can be a tough balancing act.

"A good first step for an employer to respond to an essential worker who's expressing fears of returning to work is to actively listen to the employee and have a conversation," said Brian McGinnis, an attorney with Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia. "What are their specific concerns? Are they reasonable?"

McGinnis said that employers should consider whether it already has addressed those concerns or if additional steps are needed. Often, having a conversation with the employee "will avoid an unneeded escalation," he said.

Employees' Legal Rights

What if that doesn't work? Tread cautiously, as employees have many legal protections.

An employer usually can discipline workers for violating its attendance policy. But there are exceptions to that rule, noted Robin Samuel, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles. Putting hesitant employees on leave may be a better choice than firing them.

Christine Snyder, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland, cautioned, "If an employer permits employees to use vacation or PTO [paid time off] for leave, it may soon find itself without a workforce sufficient to maintain operations. Therefore, an employer may want to rely upon the terms of its existing time-off policy, which typically requires approval to use vacation or PTO, to require that leave for this reason be unpaid."

OSH Act

Employees can refuse to work if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger, according to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. They must have a reasonable belief that there is a threat of death or serious physical harm likely to occur immediately or within a short period for this protection to apply.

Samuel explained that an employee can refuse to come to work if:

  • The employee has a specific fear of infection that is based on fact—not just a generalized fear of contracting COVID-19 infection in the workplace.
  • The employer cannot address the employee's specific fear in a manner designed to ensure a safe working environment.

NLRA

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) grants employees at unionized and nonunionized employers the right to join together to engage in protected concerted activity. Employees who assert such rights, including by joining together to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, are generally protected from discipline, Samuel noted.

"That said, the refusal must be reasonable and based on a good-faith belief that working conditions are unsafe," said Bret Cohen, an attorney with Nelson Mullins in Boston.

ADA

Employers should accommodate employees who request altered worksite arrangements, remote work or time off from work due to underlying medical conditions that may put them at greater risk from COVID-19, Samuel said.

The EEOC's guidance on COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) notes that accommodations may include changes to the work environment to reduce contact with others, such as using Plexiglas separators or other barriers between workstations.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, unlike the ADA, does not have a reasonable-accommodation requirement, pointed out Isaac Mamaysky, an attorney with Potomac Law Group in New York City. Nonetheless, he "would encourage employers to be flexible in response to leave requests from vulnerable employees," such as older essential workers, as the right thing to do and to bolster employee relations.

FFCRA

If a health care provider advises an employee to self-quarantine because the employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the employee may be eligible for paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), Cohen noted. The FFCRA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and the quarantine must prevent the employee from working or teleworking.

FFCRA regulations permit employers to require documentation for paid sick leave, noted John Hargrove, an attorney with Bradley in Birmingham, Ala.

Employers may relax documentation requirements due to the difficulty some employees could have obtaining access to medical providers during the pandemic and to encourage ill employees to stay away from work, said Pankit Doshi, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery in San Francisco.

Hazard Pay

Although not currently mandated by federal law, hazard pay—extra pay for doing dangerous work—might be appropriate for an employer to offer to essential workers, McGinnis said.

If hazard pay is offered, similarly situated employees should be treated the same, he said. Otherwise, the employer risks facing a discrimination claim.

Andrew Turnbull, an attorney with Morrison & Foerster in McLean, Va., noted that companies with multistate operations may have legitimate reasons for offering hazard pay to employees working at locations with a high risk of exposure and not where the risk is minimal.

Hazard pay might be a good choice for public-facing jobs, where employees may not be able to observe social distancing, said Román Hernández, an attorney with Troutman Sanders in Portland, Ore.

Some localities require hazard pay in some circumstances, Doshi noted. These localities include Augusta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., and Kanawha County, W.Va.

Inform and Protect Workers

Lindsay Ryan, an attorney with Polsinelli in Los Angeles, said that employers should keep employees apprised of all measures the employer is taking to maintain a safe workplace, consistent with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and local health authorities.

If employers have the means to do so, they should screen employees each day by taking their temperatures and send workers who have fevers home, Snyder said. Alternatively, employers can require employees to take their own temperatures before reporting to work, she added.

"Finally, in light of recent CDC guidance regarding the use of cloth masks to prevent infection, employers should allow employees to wear masks in the workplace and consider providing employees with cloth masks if they are able to acquire them," she said.

SOURCE: Smith, A. (20 April 2020) "What to Do When Scared Workers Don’t Report to Work Due to COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/coronavirus-when-scared-workers-do-not-report-to-work.aspx

Viewpoint: How to Lead in a Crisis

As many leaders have been faced with uncertainty during the trying times the coronavirus pandemic brought upon them, it's important for them to lead with the advantage that the uncertainty can bring. Read this blog post to learn more.


Despite a host of warnings about the impending COVID-19 crisis, it caught most of us by surprise. I recall attending the regular leadership team meetings of a few of my clients the week of March 9, and by March 15, the world had changed. It was no longer a potential crisis; it was a full-on global pandemic where new terms such as "social distancing" and "flattening the curve" became part of our lexicon. A spectrum of responses emerged, from reactive chaos to deploying well-practiced business continuity modes.

The challenge that leaders face in a crisis is that their organizations aren't typically set up to operate with such uncertainty. Leaders create visions, plans and metrics to attempt to control their environments and minimize uncertainty as best they can. In a crisis many leaders default to what they know how to do in order to reduce frustration and quell their own and others' fears. This default mode is simply not productive and rather than reduce uncertainty and anxiety, it increases both.

Today all organizations are faced with a new normal—uncertainty and inability to control the environments in which they operate. We know the pandemic will end but it won't truly be over until a vaccine is available. We know the curve will eventually flatten but projections seem to change hourly. We know people will get back to work but we don't know whether social distancing will continue to influence the economy. We know that remote work is possible on a broad scale but it's not clear if this will work long-term.

Ralph Stacey and Douglas Griffin's definition of a leader is one that lends itself to today's environment: "One recognized as a leader has a greater capacity to live with the anxiety of not knowing and not being in control. The leader is recognized as having the courage to carry on interacting productively and creatively despite not knowing." This definition certainly applies to today's environment of tremendous uncertainty and great anxiety. Clearly there is much we don't know about what the future will hold. It is also clear that leadership today requires an ability to embrace uncertainty and interact productively.

While it's a relatively small sample size, we have been amazed by the approaches our clients have taken to navigate their way through these challenging times. None have had an easy time, and some were certainly more prepared than others, but most have quickly overcome their natural tendency to control and shifted to doing their best to operate in crisis mode. In each case a few important themes emerged for how to embrace the uncertainty – humility, transparency, engagement, focus and patience.

Positive humility. In their own ways, each CEO acknowledged their fear about the unknown and that they didn't have all the answers, but they exuded a sense of calmness and confidence in their organizations to work smart and hard to get through the crisis. By reinforcing and modeling positive humility CEOs have established a tone for their leadership teams to cascade throughout their organizations.

Transparency. CEOs and their leadership teams are proactively communicating difficult information openly and being clear when they don't have answers to important questions. For example, they are not promising that no jobs will be lost but they are committing to pursuing all avenues necessary such as the SBA CARES Loans to secure jobs as long as possible.

Engagement. When in doubt these organizations are doing their best to negotiate clear expectations (i.e., daily check-in sessions with supervisors) and over-communicate (i.e., using email, internal web site and supervisors to reinforce that hourly workers will be paid weekly). They are also encouraging managers and staff to use multiple channels to remain in contact both formally and informally (i.e., Virtual Team Meetings, Virtual happy hours, random watercooler calls).

Focus. After a short period of getting their remote offices working, CEOs and their leadership teams redoubled their efforts to ensure their organizations remained focused on the core mission (i.e., executing loans, building interiors, registering / renewing members). They also reinforced that today's plans would likely change tomorrow and that learning from mistakes and helping employees and customers manage uncertainty is a big part of their jobs.

Patience. In a crisis adults often revert to overdone strengths – people who are naturally decisive might become arrogant or people who tend to be naturally empathetic might become overly protective. These CEOs and their leadership teams recognize this tendency to revert. They are working hard to have patience with each other by giving space, not overreacting themselves and providing gentle feedback.

These are extremely challenging times and despite efforts by the smartest scientists, economists and business leaders in the world, there is no clear path to when things will get back to normal. Ambiguity is a daily obstacle for most business leaders, but today we are dealing with ambiguity on steroids. It is not easy but we are so encouraged to see so many CEOs and their leadership teams embrace the ambiguity to help their organizations get to the other side of this crazy time.

Jack McGuinness is co-founder and managing partner of Relationship Impact, a consulting firm focused on helping great leaders build great leadership teams.

This article is excerpted from www.ChiefExecutive.net with permission from Chief Executive. C 2020. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: McGuinness, J. (20 April 2020) "Viewpoint: How to Lead in a Crisis" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Viewpoint-How-to-Lead-in-a-Crisis-Coronavirus.aspx


Strategies for making layoffs a last resort during a crisis

Did you know: 6.6 million Americans have applied for unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many businesses are looking for other alternatives than automatically laying off their employees. Read this blog post to learn more.


In uncertain times business leaders can be faced with an impossible choice, keep every employee or keep their business afloat.

More than 6.6 million Americans have applied for unemployment, according to the Labor Department and there have been over 10 million jobless claims, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic keeping people in their homes and out of work. It is likely that businesses will make further cuts as the latest PwC survey suggests 44% of CFOs expect furloughs and 16% expect layoffs.

The unfortunate reality for many small businesses is that there typically isn’t an alternative to layoffs, but larger organizations have more options.

“There are several firms in the U.S. right now, including our own, that have publicly said layoffs are a last resort,” says Bhushan Sethi, PwC’s global people and organization leader. “What they are looking to do is be creative with the different levers you can pull around the workforce.”

Sethi in a recent interview shared ways in which employers can make layoffs a last resort in times of unpredictability.

How can businesses avoid layoffs during a crisis?

There’s looking at compressed work schedules, reducing costs in other areas, including real estate or business travel. There are other benefits employers may be offering that are not relevant like a car allowance or a travel allowance. Even before COVID-19 we’ve seen clients take a look at a compressed work schedule. Employers need to understand what it means if they offer a compressed work week, whether it is 40 hours across four days or in some areas it might mean one week on, one week off. So the compressed work weeks can take on different forms. Changing the pay would be next, and looking at the areas of your firm that have significant costs and looking at where value is created. What that could mean is changing the mix of pay at the executive level. Certain companies have come out and froze or capped executive pay or said executives won’t take bonuses. So there’s different levers on the compressed work schedules and on the pay models and then there are other kinds of cost control measures you can take.

How are employers designing benefits during this time?

In our CFO survey we saw that 56% of them were also looking at other benefits, specifically things like paid time off and sick leave. A number of them are saying “how do I design benefits around what my people want?” At PwC we said we’re going to give an emergency child care allowance to people who need it for $2,200. We’re seeing this shift around what you can offer your employees from a benefits perspective that might be very relevant to them. I’ve seen other clients say “well if there is a small piece of equipment that will help you with remote working like investing in a different shaped chair or something like that,” it seems trivial but it's really important to people’s experience right now.

How can employers reassure their remaining staff when they have to make staffing cuts?

It’s still an opportunity for firms to start planning beyond just today’s business. You’ve got to project out maybe 12 months and say what will my revenue and my profitability be, based on some assumptions being made around the business. The more you can get employers to actually think about kind of financial impact then you can walk it back and say okay, I‘ve got to ask about the costs I need to manage and how can I be creative by not just looking at payroll and salary and benefits, but how can I think about other levers I can pull? Can I offer sabbaticals to people? Can I do compressed schedules? Can there be job sharing in certain key rolls? Looking at all the different levers around it is going to be important because then you may actually get to a decision that is more beneficial for your employees, for society, and your business because you won’t be in the process of having to lay off a significant amount of people and cause reputational damage to the business.

SOURCE; Shiavo, A. (13 April 2020) "Strategies for making layoffs a last resort during a crisis" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/strategies-for-making-layoffs-a-last-resort-during-a-crisis


Strategies for maintaining employee trust during executive turnovers

While being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to keep employee trust and confidence intact. As there may be turnovers and layoffs happening with executives, it's key to communicate with employees that their employers are listening. Read this blog post to learn more.


As businesses struggle with the obstacles of maintaining a new workplace normal in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, ambiguity and unpredictability can threaten employee trust and confidence.

Sweeping layoffs across all industries are putting more pressure on that delicate relationship between employers and employees. Employers increasingly must reassure employees about their job security and the stability of the company, and how they respond will have long-term ripple effects on loyalty and potential turnover, experts say.

“A CEO’s exit or a round of layoffs can have a detrimental effect on employee retention and well-being if not addressed properly,” says Laura Hamill, chief science officer and chief people officer at Limeade, an employee experience company. “It’s important to show employees as soon as possible that you are listening, that you understand their concerns, and that you are working to address them.”

Just before the virus took root in the U.S., former Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger unexpectedly stepped down at the end of February. Around the same time, Expedia laid off 12% of its global workforce, which came on the heels of Wayfair’s January layoffs. Online travel agency Booking announced in early April that CEO Glenn Fogel has tested positive for coronavirus but still plans to continue with his responsibilities.

These major changes can create a lot of uncertainty within an organization, leaving HR and senior leadership in charge of keeping the business on track and reducing employee turnover.

“CEO shake ups [and layoffs] can create two disharmonies,” says Dania Shaheen, vice president of people operations at Kazoo, an employee experience platform. “There is always a lot of noise created with things like this, gossip about why someone stepped down. This tends to be very distracting from what the business is actually doing.”

The often abrupt departure of a CEO can also lead to a shift in strategy, Shaheen says. While a CEO’s vision for a company can be a rallying cry within the organization when that changes, it can upset the company culture. But there are steps employers can take to get out ahead of this.

In the case of Disney, Iger has remained on board to insure the strategy he has established remains in place. This can help ensure a smoother transition of power.

“The more transparent [a company is] and the more open they are internally about what’s going on is going to be key,” Shaheen says.

Frequent and open communication is another necessity for employers during times of business tumult, Hamill says. By planning for the worst-case scenario and having a clear communication policy, organizations can address employee concerns, collect feedback, gauge sentiments, and implement change quickly. Employers shouldn’t wait until they have all of the answers buttoned up.

“When a major change occurs, organizations need to put employees first,” Hamill says. “Be transparent with employees and offer two-way communication – ensure that people feel supported. This needs to come from all angles — from leaders, managers, and internal teams like human resources.”

An organization’s culture is only as strong as the example being set by its senior leadership. In response to mass layoffs and financial losses, many CEOs and other executives have decided to take pay cuts or forego their salaries. New Disney CEO Bob Chapek will take a 50% pay cut, while Iger — who remains with the company as executive chairman — will forgo his entire salary.

Dick's Sporting Goods announced that CEO Ed Stack and President Lauren Hobart will forgo their salaries and Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson will not take home any salary for the rest of the year. The rest of the executive team will take a 50% pay cut.

When organizations set an example that you’re focused on protecting your employees, it will instill trust and create a more loyal workforce.

“Culture is absolutely critical for growth and success and you want to make sure that the culture stays steady,” Shaheen says. “You have to make sure you’re continuing to build a very purpose driven culture.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (06 April 2020) "Strategies for maintaining employee trust during executive turnovers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/strategies-for-maintaining-employee-trust-during-executive-turnovers