COVID-19 Fears

How to deal with fearful employees who are returning to the workplace.

As the COVID-19 quarantine and statewide “stay-at-home” mandates begin to be lifted, your employees are preparing to return to the office or shop floor. Many of these workers are uncertain of the risks they may face as a result of being immersed into an environment with sometimes hundreds of other employees. Your job as the responsible employer is to take certain measures to allay those fears so your company can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy.

Here are some guidelines and tips you may want to consider:

1.    Educate. Generally speaking, people want information about the real risks of entering into an office building or manufacturing facility. They want to know how they will be impacted by being in close proximity to others after having been in isolation for weeks. Communicate with your employees before they come back to work. (See COVID-19 Communications Plan below for more.)

2.    The number one message you need to communicate is “If you’ve been exposed to the virus, do not come into work!” This will help ensure your company doesn’t become crippled with a widespread outbreak of the virus.

3.    Give them the basics about avoiding contracting COVID-19. They’ve seen it all over the news, but be vigilant in your efforts to underscore the importance of washing their hands and staying home if they’re sick. The basics are:

•    Employees who have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home.
•    Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
•    Employees who are well, but have a sick family member at home with COVID-19, should notify their supervisor and follow CDC recommended precautions.

4.    Create emails, printed posters, and postcards that spell out your company’s:

A. “Updated Cleaning and Disinfection Guidance” 
B. Updated Best Practices for Conducting Social Distancing in the Work Place 
C. Updated Strategies and Recommendations You Can Implement Now to Respond to COVID-19. 

This information can be found at cdc.gov. Have your communications person begin creating this outreach immediately.

5.    Craft a brief Q&A with questions like “How will I know if the person working next to me is carrying the virus?” “Will I still get paid if I do get sick and have to quarantine at home for 14 days?” You don’t want an employee coming into work sick because they’re fearful they won’t get paid. ST Media Group is hosting webinars on FFCRA, so encourage your company to garner more info on this critical subject.

6.    Conduct daily, internal “Town Hall” meetings either onsite or via Zoom, Skype, or another online tool, so you can provide updates. Convey your company’s protocols you’ve put in place in order to keep all your employees safe, answer questions, and allay any fears. Consider consulting a local behavioral therapist to obtain professional guidance on how to deal with the psychological effects of this worldwide pandemic.

7.    Move beyond the message “We’re All in This Together.” They’ve heard that. They want to know what you’re doing for them specifically, to keep them safe and out of a risky environment.

COVID-19 Communications Plan

1.    Create a one-page Crisis Communications Plan that includes the following items: Objectives – What are your overall goals to sustain and eventually return your business to pre-COVID-19 revenues and operations?

Strategies – How do you and your management team propose to do that?

Messaging – What is the messaging you’ll use for your customers, prospects and employees?

Tactics – Use communication tools like advertising, public relations/press releases, website updates, postcards, flyers, brochures, email, direct mail, etc.

Timeline – Outline a 12-month timeline that spells out which tactics need to be completed by whom and assign definite deadlines.

Budget – Assign a dollar expenditure to this plan so you build in this cost into your P&L.

2.    Use all means of electronic media (email, social media, and online meeting tools) to connect with your employees prior to the return to the workplace.

3.    Prepare your messages prior to the online meetings. Your messages should include general information about COVID-19; how to avoid contracting it; basic hygiene like washing hands, wearing masks, and staying home if you’re sick; and your company’s sick policies. You should also include reassuring messages about how your company is taking every precaution to keep your employees safe and healthy; that’s your number one priority. Make sure you also incorporate the OSHA guidelines with respect to the virus.

4.    Set up a regular schedule for these meetings – at least once a week – and be consistent. These meetings should serve as a platform for questions and answers from your employees. Be transparent. Honesty and openness will instill a sense of security that is critical during these times. That will ultimately lead to a more focused and productive employee.

5.    Enlist your HR person to participate in the meetings and field questions. Invite local or regional medical professionals to speak to your employees, like a physician from a local hospital. This will add tremendous credibility to your efforts.

6.    Post daily updates in public areas around your building and plant floor. These can be the latest updates and tips from cdc.gov. Post upbeat, encouraging daily quotes. These can be found online and are great for morale boosting. 

7.    If you already have a suggestion box, use it. Encourage your employees to submit comments and feedback. To increase participation, run an internal promotion or raffle where someone wins a gift card.

Bio: For more than 20 years, Kelly has managed strategic marketing communications campaigns, brand development programs, advertising, public relations, media planning and buying, website development and direct mail drip campaigns for manufacturing companies. She also provides qualitative and quantitative research including focus groups and online surveys, collateral development, and event coordination.

Her industry expertise focuses on wide-format media, substrate manufacturers, protective packaging products, electronic components, and software platforms. She has successfully developed and implemented brand refreshes helping manufacturing companies solidify their brand, promote their businesses to targeted industries, and increase their customer base.

She holds a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College, Boston.