As a benefits leader, you’re likely involved in your organization’s emergency preparations and response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Fortunately, there are already a lot of great resources you can leverage as you think through how this may affect your people, their families, and your organization. But with so much anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus, what should you tell your employees? And what messages should you prioritize?
One thing to keep in mind during times of uncertainty is that your employees are looking for guidance on a very personal level. They’re wondering about risk of infection for themselves and their family members. Because the virus is spreading rapidly and because it’s new and unfamiliar, anxiety levels are especially heightened. Part of what is so scary is the unknown: where, when, and how it will hit. Other unknowns are the potential physical and financial costs to themselves and loved ones. Employees are thinking about how to keep themselves and their family members out of harm’s way. Should they or shouldn’t they commute? Should they or shouldn’t they travel? What will be the ramifications if they cancel a meeting? A recent study on Americans’ general preparedness for the coronavirus reported that 83% of employed Americans are worried about the potential for lost income if they needed to be quarantined. American workers who are paid hourly feel this concern more deeply than salaried workers and there has been a lot of media coverage about the potential cost to low-wage workers.
Here’s where you come in. You play an incredibly important role in your employees’ lives. So far, many internal communications have been focused on the nuts and bolts of business continuity, travel policies, remote working, office closures, and precautions to prevent infection. These messages are all critical. What’s most important, however, is showing your people (not just telling them) that they matter. What can you do to show your employees that you’re putting their health and safety first? That may take the shape of broad communication or personal decisions and conversations. For example, I was recently told not to worry about canceling travel plans to attend a conference that our company invested money in to sponsor the event, even though we’d lose money if I chose not to go. Receiving that guidance really made me feel like I mattered—and that I was empowered to do what I felt was best for me and my family.
Here are just a few things you can do to reassure and support your people:
Be empathetic to employees’ needs and concerns. Keeping the dialogue open is the best way to earn respect and loyalty from your employees during uncertain times.
If you haven’t already reached out to employees about all the benefits and resources they can leverage, now’s a great time to highlight:
Remember that your people’s physical, mental, and financial health are interrelated and impacted by health crises. Keep in mind that your outreach should acknowledge the potential toll on mind, body, and finances.
For more insights into the potential impacts of the coronavirus on your people and organization, be sure to check out these great resources:
Megan Yost, SVP Engagement Strategist, is a recognized thought leader in benefits communications, particularly in the areas of retirement, financial wellness, and employee engagement.