Why continuous listening is the key to a smooth transition back to work

Returning to the workplace during this time can be difficult for many, especially with employers who are being faced with the question of how to create and keep a safe and comfortable workplace scene. Read this blog post to learn more.


As states and businesses reopen in the U.S., many employers are faced with a difficult decision: Should their employees go back to the workplace? And if so, when? Amazon told their workers they likely wouldn’t return until October, while Google announced that their employees wouldn’t go back to the office until 2021. Twitter and Facebook decided most employees could work from home forever.

But once employers do make that decision, they’re then confronted with a more formidable one: How do they get their employees back in a way that is both safe and comfortable for everyone? In short, how do they successfully manage employee experience?

Most companies have coordinated COVID-19 task forces charged with making those decisions and helping their employees navigate the global pandemic. And whether they realize it or not, those task forces are broken down into two different functions: operational and experiential.

When COVID-19 first hit, the task forces had to deal with the operational challenge of moving massive workforces home overnight, and they worked to ensure employees had the equipment and software needed to function remotely. And soon after, many realized they also had another responsibility on their plate: employee mental wellbeing.

Leaders recognized they’d have to find new ways to keep their people sharp, productive, and happy. In fact, their employees’ experience with remote work was a central component in making that big operational move successful.

The same will happen as task forces bring people back to the workplace. In fact, managing employee experience will become a task force’s most critical responsibility. To ensure employees feel comfortable returning to the workplace, company leadership needs to know how they feel about coming back and what safety concerns they may have. Then leadership must act on that information.

But the current situation (and their employees’ feelings) can change rapidly. That’s why a method called “continuous listening” is essential to managing employee experience. At least once a day (if not more), employees should be able to respond to a few questions about how they’re feeling, and leaders can use that real-time information to successfully take care of their teams.

A large retail bank in North America has set up an always-on feedback channel for retail branch employees to identify safety concerns in different branches. The bank recognized that, when it came to health and safety concerns, employees might need to offer feedback immediately rather than waiting for a survey that came around once a day. Other organizations have used pre-screening tools that allow employees to self-report each day so company leadership can decide whether they should come into the workplace.

Continuous listening helps leadership communicate with employees, and vice versa. If there’s ever been a time to listen to your people and manage their employee experience, it’s now.

A Qualtrics study conducted at the beginning of May found that two out of three workers in the United States didn’t feel comfortable returning to the workplace. In fact, nearly half of all workers said they didn’t expect to go back to work until August or later.

Most respondents said they want assurance from public officials like the Centers for Disease Control or state and local governments before returning, while about half said they’d feel more comfortable once a treatment or vaccine is available. Nearly 70%, though, said they trust their company leadership to make the right decision on when to come back.

Once leadership makes that decision, however, employees expect them to enact policies and procedures that will protect workers’ safety. Almost 75% said they want their work facility to be thoroughly and regularly cleaned and disinfected, while 62% said they want strict policies about who cannot come to the office, including those who are sick and have recently traveled. Nearly 60% said they want masks available to everyone who wants one, while the same amount said they want all employees to be required to wear a mask at all times.

A majority expect their company to require those who travel to self-quarantine for 14 days, prohibit handshakes and hugs, and set safety measures around communal food. Almost 40% said they want employees to be brought back in phases instead of all at once.

Employees also want the freedom to take action themselves. Over 60% said they want to be able to wear a mask and maintain social distancing at work, and half said they want more flexible sick-leave policies that employees are encouraged to use, even with minor symptoms. Nearly the same amount said they want to be able to limit the number of people they’re exposed to in workplace meetings, and almost 40% said they want to be able to skip work without penalty or continue working from home if they feel unsafe.

These findings provide companies with a general idea of what their employees want to see before coming back to work, but gathering data specific to each organization is even more helpful. Before and after companies begin their initial return, they’ll need to listen closely and continuously to their employees and should increase emphasis on employee feedback.

After all, employees are an organization’s best ambassadors. Invest in them, and they’ll invest in you.

SOURCE: Choi, J. (27 July 2020) "Why continuous listening is the key to a smooth transition back to work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/why-continuous-listening-is-the-key-to-a-smooth-transition-back-to-work


Employees Look to HR to Evaluate COVID-19 Data Before Reopening

Many employers are looking at the opportunity to allow employees to return to their workplace, but before returning many are asking and reaching out to their HR departments to look and rely on local, state, and federal data in order to make a safe transition back into office. Read this blog post to learn more.


When national staffing and recruitment firm Addison Group began putting in place the necessary measures to reopen the company's offices in Texas, Peg Buchenroth, senior vice president of human resources, relied on local, state and federal data to make the transition.

The company's employees switched to remote work during the week of March 16. Since then, Buchenroth and her colleagues have been monitoring coronavirus cases in Texas, where the numbers are changing fast.

Recent data from Texas health authorities demonstrates why it's important for human resource managers to follow infection and hospitalization rates in different geographies.

According to Texas Department of State Health Services data, nearly 75,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the first week of June and more than 1,800 people died of COVID-19. As of July 19, nearly 4,000 people had died from COVID-19 in the state, and the death toll is expected to rise further as reported cases have climbed to over 330,000.

Texas Health and Human Services has posted a warning on its website: "Please note that all data are provisional and subject to change. Probable cases are not included in the total case numbers."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began clearing the way for businesses to reopen in May to restart the state's economy but had to roll back those plans after COVID-19 deaths began to rise. In the midst of this, the Addison Group reopened its San Antonio/Houston offices on May 4, its Dallas location on May 18 and its Austin facility on May 20. The company closed its Texas offices for the July 4 holiday and has kept them closed as it considers what to do next.

"While we successfully opened our Texas offices in May for employees who wanted to return to in-person work, we've decided to close these locations and will monitor the situation in case we need to reassess," Buchenroth said. "The safety of our employees remains Addison Group's top priority, and we will continue to leverage federal, state and local data to inform any future decisions."

She said employees who return to the office will need to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, such as wearing a mask and maintaining 6 feet of physical distance from others.

"We want to make sure that employees feel safe when they return to the office," Buchenroth said.

She added that the company takes into consideration the many factors that can influence an employee's decision to return to the office, including child care needs, elder care responsibilities, and serious underlying medical conditions that put individuals at high risk of developing a severe illness from COVID-19.

 SHRM MEMBER-EXCLUSIVE RESOURCE SPOTLIGHT
Coronavirus and COVID-19

 

Using Data to Inform Reopening

As more businesses reopen, employers will have to decide if going to the office is safe based on the data received from local health authorities. Insight from that data will determine how employers will design their workspaces to allow for adequate social distancing within an office, how many workers will be allowed in the office at a time and whether remote work will continue for the foreseeable future.

John Dooney, an HR Knowledge Advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management, said he has noticed an increase in the number of inquiries from HR professionals about new federal, state and local measures and how to safely reopen businesses. He added that while health officials have gained a better understanding of the coronavirus during the past four months, there is still a lot more to learn.

"The pandemic is evolving, and we haven't had the luxury of time to get the information we need," Dooney said. "I think it's important for HR managers to continually review data from authoritative resources."

HR needs to be aware of the changes states are making as they reverse previous decisions on reopening their economies given increasing coronavirus infections and death rates in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas. The current crisis, Dooney said, should prompt HR professionals to be more involved with their senior leadership teams in the decision-making process.

"HR executives should work with senior managers to come up with the best ideas that protect their employees," Dooney advised. "The leadership team should be looking at not only how to maintain the business, but also how to implement adequate protections."

Employers' responses will also depend on the work environment at each company. Hospitals, supermarkets, pharmacies and delivery services, for example, need employees at their worksites; many knowledge-based businesses, however, are better-suited to rely on remote workers.

Gavin Morton, head of people and financial operations at HR.com, said as discrepancies arise in the actual number of coronavirus infections and deaths caused by COVID-19, employees will want to know that their employers have seen the data, considered it carefully and are concerned about workers' safety.

"We all want to know exactly what's going on, but it is very difficult for medical professionals and coroners to quickly ascribe deaths to COVID-19 or other causes," Morton said. "It is logical that there are both more cases and more infections than are being reported, since the testing numbers are still relatively low, and we may not know for years what the true impact has been."

Morton added that employers are in a powerful position to reduce their employees' anxiety. "Employers need to read carefully to understand what the reliable facts are and use them to inform their employees rather than alarm them. Clarity, calm and honesty go a long way," he said.

Morton said HR professionals should consider and educate the leadership team in two key areas:

  • How this information impacts the business and employees. Some data could have little to no impact on a company, depending on such factors as location and type of business, while other information could have a severe impact. An outbreak of cases in a city four hours away may not worry the organization's local employees, but if someone's parents live in that city, he or she may be personally very concerned.
  • Employee sentiment. It is critical to understand how employees are feeling and how new data can affect their confidence in their safety.

Contact tracing, new coronavirus cases, new hospitalizations, and increases or drops in the number of people dying from COVID-19 will be critical data that will contribute to HR managers' planning.

Human resource professionals should remember, too, that the data are interrelated.

For example, Morton noted that while an increase in deaths reported is alarming, it doesn't necessarily mean that there are more cases; similarly, falling death rates may not mean that transmission today is low. Information about deaths is only one piece of the puzzle.

Developing measures to secure the safety and encourage the performance of employees during the second half of the year won't be easy, especially if there is suspicion that federal, state and local information on the COVID-19 crisis isn't accurate.

"The numbers are really important, and companies need to pay close attention to information which impacts their employees and their customers," Morton said. "While the data can help guide their decisions, HR leaders and company leaders still need to interpret the data. This is true for any information, and so the uncertainty around death reporting is no different. Company leaders need to use their best judgment based on their knowledge of their business, employees and customers."

SOURCE: Lewis, N. (20 July 2020) "Employees Look to HR to Evaluate COVID-19 Data Before Reopening" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/hr-evaluate-covid19-data-before-reopening.aspx


SHRM: Employers Consider Safety Precautions for Return to Workplace

As employers begin to look at what lies ahead in regards to returning to the workplace, they also have to begin looking at what precautions they need to consider in order to keep the workplace safe for everyone involved. Read this blog post to learn more.


Nearly half of organizations surveyed have not announced a return-to-work date as COVID-19 restrictions ease in some parts of the country, but a majority of HR professionals think setting even a tentative date is a good idea.

The findings from new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research released June 9 illustrate how U.S. employers are considering a phased return of employees, staggered start and stop times, health precautions, and physical changes to their worksites.

Setting a return date is a good idea, two-thirds of HR professionals said, because it eases job-security concerns among staff, especially for those in physical and service industries such as health care, retail and education. Employers that have established a date prefer employees to return on or before June 30, according to more than three-fourths of HR professionals.
Much of what an organization decides to do depends on its size and industry.

Large employers—those with 500 or more employees—were less likely to have announced a return date. This was especially true in knowledge industries. However, organizations in those industries—finance, consulting, engineering and administrative services companies—also were more likely to let employees continue to work from home and determine when they want to return to the worksite.

Industries where the work is more physical—construction, manufacturing and transportation—were more likely to have already reopened their physical locations and to implement an alternating work schedule.

Other strategies include:

  • Staggering the start and stop of employees' workdays as well as break times so as to reduce the number of workers in one location at the same time (75 percent).
  • Reducing the number of customers permitted on site at one time and taking measures such as counting the number of people as they enter (78 percent).
  • Limiting the number of employees or customers on site at one time (81 percent).

The research is based on a SHRM survey that collected responses May 13-20 from a random sampling of 1,087 SHRM members working in HR. Academicians, students, consultants, people who are self-employed or retired, and HR professionals who were furloughed or laid off were excluded from the sample.

“This research gives a glimpse into how COVID-19 has changed the world of work, and what workplaces will look like once we return,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM's president and CEO. “Workers should expect to see more masks, fewer handshakes, marked floors, more barriers, and greater flexibility—especially when it comes to remote work.”

Among employers implementing a phased-return plan, one-third intend to do so by specific departments or functions. Others are first bringing back employees with lower health risks or those in leadership positions. The length of the phased return also varies, from two weeks to more than three months.

"Getting back to work takes a lot of work," Taylor noted, "and HR professionals have played an essential role in drawing up plans that drive organizations forward and protect public health.”

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (09 June 2020) "SHRM: Employers Consider Safety Precautions for Return to Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/shrm-employers-consider-safety-precautions-for-return-to-workplace.aspx


People Analytics Guide Return-to-Work Choices

With many workplaces beginning to return to work, many leaders are using analytic tools to make decisions regarding staff easier. Read this blog post to learn more.


Human resources leaders are turning to people analytics tools to help make difficult decisions as their staffs return to the workplace and face a damaged economy. Whether it's figuring out how to keep workers safe, making decisions on furloughs and layoffs, or ensuring the right number of employees are in the right roles, these technologies collect, blend and analyze people data to guide HR leaders in their "what if" scenario planning.

Research shows the use of people analytics software was on the rise even before the coronavirus crisis hit. Now experts say many HR leaders are doubling down on the use of those tools.

Platforms Integrate Data

People analytics platforms fall into a number of categories. One group can help users integrate and analyze the diverse data sets related to COVID-19 and the composition of their workforces. They help answer questions like which people in key roles can go back to the workplace and which should continue working remotely; assist in developing first- and second-level succession plans in case workers get sick or need to step away to assist family members; and help align workforce planning with shifting business strategy and uncertain revenue forecasts.

AON is one vendor with an analytics tool that helps HR leaders think through workforce costs amid COVID-19. The London-based company's Talent Modeler platform can help determine the impact of shift reductions or help leaders choose from a range of options such as furloughs, attrition, pay cuts or layoffs.

Experts say sophisticated people analytics also can help leaders evaluate alternatives to layoffs, such as hiring or promotion freezes, shortened work schedules, or reducing costs like real estate expenses.

Nicholas Garbis, vice president of people analytics strategy for One Model, a people analytics provider with offices in Austin, Texas, has seen an evolution among HR leaders he's spoken to throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. As organizations begin their return-to-work planning—which largely entails addressing employee fear of COVID-19 infection as well as monitoring the reopening of child care centers—more are now planning for the "what if" scenarios that will arise this summer, he said.

This coming phase requires HR leaders to have better data and insight into the state of their current workforce and how it may need to change in the short term. "You need to be able to accurately assess your capacity, starting with the kind of workforce gaps that may have emerged from early March to now," Garbis said. "What talent have you lost, for example, to furloughs, layoffs or health issues?"

One Model's analytics platform collects and blends diverse forms of people data into a unified model to help surface these kinds of insights. HR should examine the state of "talent segments" in the organization as well as gauge potential coronavirus risks, Garbis said, then create a short-term strategic plan to define future workforce needs.

"HR business partners should be consulting with business leaders right now to say, 'This is the mix of people and roles you have now. What might you need your workforce to look like in six to 12 months?' " he said. "You want to ensure you're growing where you're supposed to grow and shrinking where you want to shrink."

People analytics also can help redeploy employees to areas experiencing increased demand. Ian Cook, vice president of people solutions for Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based Visier, said a financial services company he knows was considering furloughing employees in one area of its business until it experienced a spike in another area—life insurance sales. "That allowed them to move some front-line customer service people over to selling life insurance policies," Cook said.

In another case a regional bank used analytics to decide to move a call center to shift work and parallel work teams with physical distancing, said Bhushan Sethi, joint global leader, people and organization for PwC, a research and consulting firm in New York City.

"The goal was to help manage call center capacity and infection risk," Sethi said. "Almost 50 percent of CFOs in a recent PwC survey said they would have to implement some form of shift work when they bring people back to the workplace."

Employee Coaching Analytics

Employee coaching tools can give managers and employees feedback on how their communication or management styles have changed as a result of remote working arrangements. One vendor in the space is Cultivate, which creates reports that give employees a summary of their digital behaviors at home.

"These analytics could show managers, for example, how responsive they've been to certain employees in the work-from-home setting or how much overall time they've spent with certain workers," said Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst of RedThread Research, a human capital research and advisory firm in Woodside, Calif.

Measuring Inclusion During Remote Work

This category of analytics can help HR understand how remote work is impacting leadership development, performance-based promotions or the inclusion of diverse employee populations. Some experts believe, for example, that a remote working environment can make it easier for implicit or unconscious bias to take root.

"We know that people's networks have contracted as a result of remote work, and there also can be less insight into employee performance," Garr said. "When we aren't seeing each other in person as often and aren't as aware of what others are doing or thinking, it can open the door to unconscious bias and stereotyping."

Organizational network analysis technology can track employees' connections to give HR a better understanding of how remote workers are interacting during COVID-19, Garr said. "The tools can give you an indication of who is being included in conversations, who is on e-mail threads and who is being invited to meetings. It can help you see if people across the organization are being included on an equal basis." Some of these vendors include TrustSphere, Polinode, Innovisor and OrgAnalytix.

Employee Surveying and Sentiment Analysis

Many companies are deploying employee listening tools to stay abreast of how workers are feeling at home and to gauge their sentiment on returning to the workplace. Platforms like Qualtrics, Yva, Perceptyx and Limeade offer such survey tools, some of which include artificial intelligence capabilities to make it easier to compile and analyze survey results.

"Organizations are using these surveys to measure employee feelings about a return to the workplace, with the understanding that not everyone is of the same mind about that return," Garr said. Such surveys sometimes ask employees to register their preferences for a return to the workplace. Might they want to work certain shifts or travel into the office on certain days, for example, and work other days at home?

COVID-Specific Employee Health and Safety Tracking

Some people analytics have adapted to allow HR leaders to merge publicly available COVID-19 data with their internal people data to assist in workforce planning. Visier integrates COVID-19 data sources and automated analysis to help users make more-informed decisions related to staffing.

Visier's database allows leaders to see which of their employees are in areas most impacted by the coronavirus and helps to manage business continuity challenges.

"We've layered the latest COVID-19 case data into the application so business users can see by geography how deeply the virus has gone into their populations and can view projections from the University of Washington model about peaks and changes in various states," said Visier's Cook.

SOURCE: Zielinski, D. (22 May 2020) "People Analytics Guide Return-to-Work Choices" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/people-analytics-guide-return-to-work-choices-coronavirus.aspx


How COVID-19 has changed the recruiting tech stack

 


The rapid shift to telework for many office-based employers is not only forcing companies to conduct recruiting virtually, but also making them reconsider every aspect of their talent acquisition strategies. After implementing additional technology solutions amid the pandemic, experts suggest that some changes will be permanent.

While the talent acquisition function tends to lead technology adoption among HR groups, interviews were still commonly held face-to-face at some point in the process and deliberation over candidates often took place in in-person meetings. But recruiting leaders may find that digital processes offer new advantages and end up keeping them even when they return to their offices.

Improving the function
While many organizations scrambled to put together online fixes for manual or in-person processes during the pandemic, improvement took a back seat to maintaining continuity. Now that change is not so rapid, business leaders are focusing on how to improve in these conditions.

Recruiting is no different. Existing technology solutions can address strategic imperatives that were top of mind before the pandemic, such as workforce data, candidate experience or recruiter productivity. More importantly, these technologies can still be deployed while everyone is working from home.

"I think as you start to look at how things like machine learning can be applied, there's a lot of opportunities," Mark Brandau, a research principal, global industry analyst at Forrester, told HR Dive. "The ones I gravitate to are things that automate the process."

Scheduling, communicating with candidates and optimizing job board spend — the same way marketers do with online ad spend — represent the "low-hanging fruit" when it comes to recruiting technology, Brandau said. The tools are usually simple to use and do not depend on the technical maturity of the organization for adoption or implementation.

Having every single recruiting activity occurring within some sort of technology also allows for better data collection. While organizations are trying to collect as much as possible, it's a challenge to validate data entered by people and also can be subjective, such as a hiring manager's perception of a candidate after a first-round in-person interview.

"Something we suspected before the pandemic is organizations don't have a lot of necessary data to make adaptive forward decisions," Brandau said. "That includes candidate data and [talent] market data."

Having better data by having more widespread technology will allow talent acquisition leaders to be more informed about the metrics that matter and how they can improve the function's effectiveness. Efficiency gains, like being able to immediately schedule an interview, can improve the candidate experience and save recruiters time.

"They either want to automate [sourcing and screening] more because of high volume or they want to find better quality candidates," Brandau said. "So they're focused on automation and quality of time" to improve the caliber of candidates entering the funnel and their experience.

Expanding into onboarding
In a pre-pandemic interview process, once a candidate accepts a job offer, after the initial excitement from both parties subsides, there is often a hand-off to a different colleague to manage the onboarding process. Today, with remote work as the norm and more automation coming, there is an opportunity for talent acquisition to bolster, if not completely own, onboarding.

"Once a client understands and gets wind of what's possible with onboarding, especially as a part of a bigger HCM transformation, when you tie in learning and procurement and other things that can happen and goals within onboarding," Brandau said, "they start to light up because they see it way more transformative beyond talent acquisition."

Being able to seamlessly move into value-add onboarding activities without the possibility of a clunky handoff can pay off in many ways. It can boost a new employee's preparedness and excitement. It can also serve as an extension of a company's brand, Brandau said, noting the connections between candidate experience, employment branding and the overall branding of a company. Tactically, onboarding automation can include signaling procurement for a new computer or other supplies a new hire may need.

Organizational leaders often are interested in automating the first steps of onboarding to support a new employees' alignment with organizational goals and maximize the experience of their first 90 days, including what training they may need. "So there's a lot of there's a lot of immediate benefit, as opposed to longer term benefit, when you think about ROI and visibility and brand reinforcement, that's why they gravitate that way," he added.

Finding new sourcing channels
Another opportunity for remote recruiting teams is expanding the geography and scope of sourcing channels. When recruiters no longer need to travel to career fairs and instead interact with prospective employees virtually, they can speak to more candidates. And when candidates don't need to play email tag to schedule an interview, they move the process more efficiently.

SOURCE: Kidwai, A. (14 May 2020) "How COVID-19 has changed the recruiting tech stack" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/how-covid-19-has-changed-the-recruiting-tech-stack/577953/


Work from home forever? Businesses are divided on that

With many businesses working remotely still due to the coronavirus, many businesses are debating on if working from home will become permanently and are even divided on that decision. Read this blog post to learn more.


The work-from-home movement is gaining steam in Silicon Valley as a flurry of companies — big and small — are embracing remote-working policies beyond the pandemic. But even as some executives extol its virtues, other tech leaders aren’t so sure, opening a growing divide inside the industry over the future of work. It’s a worthy debate.

On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his company will start allowing some existing employees to work from home permanently. He said Facebook will also “aggressively open up remote hiring” for engineering talent in areas it doesn’t have an office, saying as much as 50% of the company’s employees could eventually work remotely within 10 years. In similar fashion, Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke said his e-commerce software company will allow its employees to work from home indefinitely, adding he expects that most of his staff will work remotely going forward. The days of “office centricity is over,” the executive posted on social media. The two companies join Twitter, which said last week it will let employees work from home as standard practice as well.

Not everyone in technology is on board. Take-Two Interactive Software CEO Strauss Zelnick said on an investor call this week that he believes sustained strong productivity will get more difficult the longer people are forced to work from home, adding that “there is no substitute for in-person collaboration and connection.” That follows comments from Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella, who expressed concern in an interview with the New York Times last week that early positive remote-work productivity metrics may mask underlying deficiencies, in terms of managing and mentoring employees. He also raised worries about potential burnout and mental-health issues. “Maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?” he asked.

There’s something to be said for this pushback. Sure, there are many pluses to offering off-site work flexibility — including better employee retention and the ability to hire from a more diverse talent base in other geographies — but corporations should realize the work-from-home trend isn’t a panacea. In fact, there are significant drawbacks and challenges that shouldn’t be overlooked.

As Zelnick pointed out, there are unquantifiable benefits derived from being in the same physical location. Scheduled videoconferencing meetings don’t engender the same spontaneous creativity compared to the many back-and-forth brief conversations during a typical day at an office. And nothing beats face-to-face interactions for building the relationships and trust required to persuade your colleagues on big decisions.

It’s notable that even as Facebook projects confidence and forward-looking thought leadership in its charge toward its new work-from-home culture, it is implementing the change slowly. Zuckerberg said only the company’s senior engineers with strong performance reviews will be initially allowed to apply for remote-work flexibility, adding it will be a measured transition before extending the policy to non-engineers.

To be frank, it wouldn’t surprise me to see many of these companies slow down their transitions to remote working. After all, the world is only a few months into this massive remote-work experiment. The initial productivity benefits may dissipate and significant negative consequences may well appear over time. Best not to rush into any drastic decisions.

SOURCE: Kim, T. (26 May 2020) "Work from home forever? Businesses are divided on that" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/work-from-home-forever-businesses-are-divided-on-that


8 keys to developing a successful return to work program

What does your return to work program look like? Read this blog post for 8 tips to developing a successful return to work program at your organization.


No matter the size of your organization, there’s about a 99% chance at some point dealing with employees going on leave. Most HR professionals are well-versed on the logistics of what to do when an employee is on short- or long-term disability — but what sort of culture do you have in place that encourages and supports them with a return to work (RTW)? Developing a positive and open RTW culture benefits not only the organization but the employee and their teams as well.

An effective RTW program helps an injured or disabled employee maintain productivity while recuperating, protecting their earning power and boosting an organization’s output. There also are more intangible benefits including the mental health of the employee (helping them feel valued), and the perception by other team members that the organization values everyone’s work.

See also: 7 Ways Employers Can Support Older Workers And Job Seekers

Some other benefits of an RTW program can include improvement of short-term disability claims, improvement of compliance and reduction of employer costs (replacing a team member can cost anywhere from half to twice that employee’s salary, so doing everything you can to keep them is a wise investment).

Some of these may seem like common sense, but I’m continually surprised how many (even large) organizations don’t have an established RTW program. Here are eight critical elements of a successful program.

1. Support from company leadership.

No change will occur if you don’t have buy-in and support at the top. Make the case for a defined RTW program and explain the key benefits to leadership. Know what’s driving your existing absences: Is it musculoskeletal or circulatory? What’s the average length of absence? How many transition from STD to LTD? Come in with some of this baseline data and make the case for an RTW program. Having a return to work champion on the senior leadership team is essential to the program’s success.

2. Have a written policy and process.

There are many considerations when developing an RTW program including how it’s being administered, how employees learn more and engage with HR once out, and when they need to notify the company. Unless you have these policies in place, nobody will be held accountable. This also is an important time to bring in your legal consultation to assure you’re compliant with current company policies and municipal, state and federal laws.

3. Establish a return to work culture.

Once you have leadership support, make your RTW program just like any other championed within the organization. Develop clear messaging about what it means to employees, how they can get more information when they need it, steps for engaging with an RTW specialist and other key advantages. Then, disseminate this information through all appropriate channels including e-newsletters, intranet, brochures, posters and meetings.

4. Train your team members.

Educate managers on why an RTW program is important, why they should get behind it, how it impacts the organization, and what it means for both them and the returning employee. This training can be built into your onboarding process so that all new employees are made aware at day one. Having core messaging about the program and clear policies and procedures will assure everyone is singing from the same hymnbook.

5. Establish an RTW coordinator.

Depending on the size of your organization, this may be a part-time or full-time role. It’s essentially establishing someone as the day-to-day owner of work and could be a nurse, benefits coordinator or someone from your HR team. This person will need to work with various department managers (some who may at times be difficult) to define RTW roles, track compliance and measure success.

6. Create detailed job descriptions.

It’s important to have functional job descriptions for all employees which include physical requirements and essential duties. Often, when employees have an RTW, there are specific lifting, sitting or standing requirements. These are all compliance issues that the EEOC will pay close attention to.

7. Create modified duty options.

Some of the strongest pushback I get is from managers who claim there’s no way to modify an employee’s duties. However, when asked about back-burner projects they haven’t gotten to, the same manager will quickly come back with 5-10 tasks. Often, it’s a combination of that employee’s existing duties and some of these special projects which make a perfectly modified list of responsibilities.

8. Establish evaluation metrics.

Senior leaders love metrics, so if you can benchmark on the front end how many people are out and what that equates to in lost time/productivity, you can easily begin to evaluate what having an RTW program brings to the organization. Make your RTW coordinator responsible for tracking this information and share it with not only senior leadership but also managers and even team members. This will help reinforce the importance of the program to everyone.
SOURCE: Ledford, M. (2 October 2018) "8 keys to developing a successful return to work program" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/8-keys-to-developing-a-successful-return-to-work-program

Study Reveals Importance of Personal Interactions in Return-to-Work

Originally posted March 03, 2014 by Kristy Tugman on http://www.voluntary.com

Most HR managers are aware of the impact that disability absences have on an organization’s bottom line. But what they may not realize is that the costs associated with these absences are also having an effect on the global economy, as businesses everywhere struggle with getting disability-related costs under control. In fact, one study showed that disability costs were 8 to 15% of payroll in 2002. Seven years later, a similar study found that statistic to hold true, while also suggesting that disability costs would rise by 37% in the future due to the aging population.

Other studies confirm that disability costs are indeed a concern for countries around the world: the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Australia and Canada all report escalating disability payments. In Norway, for example, disability payments are about 2.4% of the country’s gross domestic product. And Canada reports that close to 10% of its working population is receiving disability benefits.

Unfortunately there’s no magic bullet for solving the challenge of disability absences, as employers have come to realize. But with so little research supporting effective techniques for return to work, most employers would agree that it’s time for researchers to explore the possible factors − particularly behavior-based techniques that have shown promise − involved in helping employees get back to work successfully.

A recent qualitative study of employees in a cross-section of industries, including manufacturing, television production, financial services and the legal profession, explored patterns and trends of those who went out on disability and their return to work experience. The findings were particularly instructive for employers seeking answers for how to motivate employees on disability to make the transition back to work.

Positive and negative consequences

The study identified several key themes of note, starting with the consequences of not returning to work. The researcher concluded that participants in the study experienced a range of consequences that evolved throughout their experience of being out of work. These included negative consequences, such as financial impact (not having enough money to pay the bills), a loss of personal identity (defining one’s self in terms of job duties) and a loss of control (over one’s destiny). Yet consequences could also be positive, with some participants expressing relief that they didn’t initially have to resume their job duties.

It also became clear that personal interactions were very important as motivators, and were linked to both positive and negative consequences. Not surprisingly, the most significant interactions for employees were those with their co-workers and managers. Employees who experienced negative interactions with their manager had a decreased sense of connection with their employer – and were less motivated to return to work. In addition, participants indicated that when their manager reached out to express concern about their disability, it helped to strengthen their sense of loyalty to the company. However, if a manager reached out only to inquire about when they planned to return to work, it put undue pressure on the employees and created anxiety.

Interactions with co-workers were even more significant for employees. Employees noted that positive interactions with their fellow workers made them feel as if they “owed” it to their peers to return to work. But when co-workers failed to reach out to those who were out on disability, employees said they felt a strong sense of disappointment and isolation.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the study revealed that negative consequences related to a loss of identity and control were factors that led to return to work in many cases. Employees expressed a direct connection between their identity, self-worth and work. Some participants said they were motivated to return to work because they feared “losing themselves” if they did not.

Likewise, when employees gave control to their physician about their return to work, they were not as likely to return. Initially, most of the participants did release control to their doctor, but as they began to recover from their disability, they slowly took control back through small steps toward independence and each made the decision to get back on the job as they felt more in control.

The findings from the study have clear implications for employers. For example, although co-workers play an important role in helping employees with disabilities feel connected to the company, they are often unsure about how to appropriately stay in touch. Some said they didn’t want to bother the employee or intrude on what they were going through. One simple way to reach out is to send a card from the team, letting the employee know he or she is being thought of. In addition, managers can contact the employee to ask about their well-being, rather than requesting a return-to-work date.

Employers also need to realize that what type of consequences the employee is experiencing can be useful in helping overcome the barriers to return to work. The study showed that what an employee was thinking and feeling played a significant role in influencing the level of recovery. For instance, when employees started to believe they were in control, they felt a sense of empowerment. When they began to take responsibility for their productivity, they saw it as a positive sign that they could adapt and ultimately recover and return to work.

If rehabilitation practitioners and employers can understand the consequences an employee is experiencing, they can both interact and intervene more effectively with their employees who are out on disability to produce a successful return to productivity – an outcome that is beneficial to all.

 

 


Sick of Sick Time

By Kathryn Mayer
Source: Benefitspro.com

All week, I’ve been hearing hacking and sneezing and various other upsetting noises coming from all different corners of my office.

It’s likely you have, too.

According to a survey of office workers by Staples, nearly 80 percent of office workers come to work even when they know they’re sick. That’s a whopping 20 percent increase just over last year.

And even worse, for those who stay home, more than two-thirds return to work when they’re still contagious, putting coworkers’ health and business productivity at risk.

This isn’t good news: For one, it’s flu season. (If you haven’t heard, that spreads easily and fast.)

It’s a pretty obvious problem we have here, and of course, a pretty obvious solution: Workers who are sick shouldn't come to work. Period. Instead of getting better, you’ll prolong your recovery and sulk around all day not getting work done while spreading germs to a significant amount of people. And that’s just mean.

Too bad following that solution isn’t all that easy. For the sickly workers, they have a valid excuse to show up: For example, the survey shows nearly half of workers cited concerns about completing work as the reason they don’t stay home sick. And, more than a quarter of respondents come to work to avoid using a sick day, even though a majority of those surveyed indicated their average productivity level while sick was only around 50 percent.

In a struggling economy and competitive job market, workers are less likely to spend their time away from the office even if it’s truly needed. And for PTO workers like myself, if you want to take a vacation, it means you better not get sick. If I caught the flu this year, I’d have to cancel a visit to my parents’ home in Boston. That’s a tough, if not unfair, decision to make.

It’s a two-way street to fix the issue. Employees shouldn’t be coming to work, but employers need to encourage them not to—and that’s not happening in a lot of places. If there really needs to be something done, employers should encourage a telecommuting option so they still work while quarantining themselves (win-win—at least for the employer).

But the main issue is our country’s lack of sick time. The United States is actually the only country that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave. As a result, close to one quarter of adult workers say they’ve been threatened with termination or fired for taking time off for being sick or taking care of a sick family member.

I don't know about you, but that makes me feel ill.


Employers Fear Supporting Staff Return to Work

By Owain Thomas

Source: Workplace Savings and Benefits
A large majority of employers feel ill-equipped to help staff return to work after illness while a significant minority are calling for auto-enrolment into group risk schemes, new research finds.

The Aviva survey revealed that just one in five (20%) organizations felt equipped to offer their employees rehabilitation support following long-term illness.

Nearly a quarter (22%) said they do not have the resource or expertise to manage people back into the workplace effectively and a similar number (25%) worried that they would have to carry on paying sick pay.

The survey of 500 employers also highlighted confusion about new state benefits and fears that introducing measures to respond to this could adversely affect workers.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) admitted they did not know how much benefit is paid through Employment and Support Allowance while nearly three quarters (72%), didn't know that people in the work related activity group could find their entitlement to ESA could stop after a year.

Just one in ten (11%) employers had reviewed their sick-pay arrangements following the welfare reform changes.

When the situation was explained, over a third (38%) of employers felt it would be a good idea to have a different approach for different conditions.

However, a quarter (24%) recognized the potential impact this could have on their workforce, noting that they would worry that employees would be forced back into work when they are not well enough to do so.

One in five (22%) also felt that it would be very difficult to have the correct measures in place to decide whether a person is fit for work.

In response to these problems, a significant minority (43%) said they thought employees should be auto-enrolled onto a scheme that gives them financial protection in the event of long-term sickness absence.

And around one in five (17%) added that they were already considering taking out group income protection.

Aviva head of group risk Steve Bridger said: "There is a concerning lack of awareness amongst employers about the State benefits relating to illness or injury.

"However, we're encouraged to see that employers recognize the benefit of auto-enrolling employees onto a scheme that gives them financial protection if they are unable to work due to long-term illness and aids rehabilitation."