Why your return-to-work plan will be your ultimate ‘benefits’ package to attract, retain employees

Employers have longed used benefit packages to attract — and retain — their workforce. In the past, those packages have been centered around compensation, paid time off and quality (and value) of health insurance plans.

The COVID-19 pandemic will change all this.

When employees return to work — and expect this to be a drawn-out process, over many months — their needs, desires and expectations of benefits will be dramatically different. Employers will need to adjust to survive.

Most employers already have a return-to-work plan for employees who have been out sick, who have had a child or have been disabled. This situation is different. Employers will need to have a plan built around safety — and, just as important, workplace flexibility — if they want to keep their key associates and maintain workplace morale.

Now is the time to plan. Being proactive before the return to work will help reduce turnover and departure, not to mention increasing employee engagement and loyalty.

More than anything, communication is key. So, create a plan and explain it to your employees early and often. It is the best benefit you can provide during these times.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Set a (flexible) return to work date: Employers must start by following state and local guidelines, but they can’t be rigid. Health care and child care issues will be of foremost concern of your employees — and everyone’s situation will be different. Treat everyone individually. If you are rigid in your response, expect to lose those employees and others. You will offend the entire staff.
  2. Establish worker-friendly work-from-home rules: This will be the biggest change in the workplace. Employees will want it. And after these past few weeks, you no longer can say it is not logistically possible. Find a way to make it work. Most employees likely will want a hybrid situation. Embrace the idea. This not only will show you are meeting employee needs, it will reduce head count in the workplace, making it safer.
  3. Make sure disinfecting and cleaning procedures are a constant: It’s one thing to do a thorough cleaning during off hours, another to make sure employees have access to cleaning supplies during their time in the office. There will be a sense of anxiety; employees must know they have the ability to protect themselves.
  4. Implement new office designs and rules that are based on safety: This goes to more than just having 6-feet rules and smaller meetings. Employers need to reconfigure offices and desks to meet the new protocol. Add plexiglass barriers when appropriate. Most of all, eliminate “hoteling” — the concept of sharing a workspace or work equipment is over.
  5. Establish employee screening procedures: Taking body temperatures before employees enter the workplace will be expected — and a reason why employees will leave to join others who are doing so.
  6. Training, training, training: This goes to the communication piece. Employers will need to constantly reinforce the principles above. Such training will go a long way to making sure employees are acting in a safe manner — and be an acknowledgement that their employers care about their well-being.

The rules and regulations in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic change daily, even on an hourly basis. Some things employers need to consider is to be ready to adapt to those changes, to consider your workers priorities, set up a process for individualized requests and manage any reputational effects before reopening your business.

Remember, reopening your business after the COVID-19 pandemic is not as simple as opening your doors, you’ll need to carefully reevaluate each step of your reopening and gradually ask your employees to return to work.

Once this is established, employers will be able to return to the more traditional aspects of benefits. And don’t be surprised when you find it’s easier to negotiate pay and PTO with employees who feel you have the safety of them, their co-workers and their families at heart.

Paul Smith is the founder and president of BenefitSmiths in Point Pleasant. Reach him at paul@benefitsmiths.com.

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