ASIA – As many countries around the world emerge from the first shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home restrictions slowly lift, many employers are quickly learning that returning to the workplace does not equal returning to life as it was pre-pandemic and is actually more complicated than locking down.
While employers look for ways to preserve their employees’ health and well-being and keep them energised and productive, they will have to balance empathy and economics, even in the face of tough decisions, finds Mercer’s Return to a New Normal white paper.
The ability to adapt quickly will be vital; employers will need to deploy a variety of proven channels for effective communication, while also providing tools and support for managers to accomplish these goals. As the pandemic unfolded in stages, economic recovery will also likely happen in stages, but it is clear that as employers progress on return practices, they will need to continually revisit their relevance for changing times.
While each organisation faces unique sets of challenges and variations by location, there are distinct issues that are top of mind.
To manage both clinical realities and government guidelines, HR and business leaders are working together with internal stakeholders such as facilities, occupational health and safety, and risk management to reimagine workplaces, reshape physical customer interactions and understand the reality of the new employee experience. Workplace readiness plans that are flexible and adaptable – and that continually audit safety within or outside the worksite – will prove invaluable.
According to Mercer’s COVID-19 pulse survey, 80% of companies in Asia Pacific (APAC) plan to provide facemasks, compared to 63% globally. Additionally, insights into what PPE inventory is needed, when and where, and the range of testing available are part of an informed and dynamic return strategy. Two in three employers in APAC (66% compared to 56% globally) are implementing a staggered return to the worksite to allow greater social distancing.
Since not all jobs need to return to the workplace and not all work-from-home arrangements will outlive COVID-19, organizations are re-examining remote, flexible and blended working arrangements. Mercer’s research found that one in two firms in APAC (50% compared to 66% globally) have arranged for greater flexibility to work from home, and data indicates employers are taking the opportunity to evaluate which roles can thrive in a remote-first environment.
Many employers want to get back to growing their business, however, there are concerns associated with the complexity of navigating a new economic order and the challenges with re-engaging employees. Outsourcing activities such as the responsibility for employees’ retirement plans might be considered to alleviate the burden on internal resources.
Return to Stability
Gaining stability and planning a path back to more robust financial and operational performance is crucial. As employers move beyond initial cost deferrals, cost reductions and preserving as many jobs as possible, they are likely to enter a different environment with a stronger focus on the bottom line and their employees’ productivity. Rigorous prioritization of programs and processes will help companies determine what their organisation needs to do to sustain their workforce for survival and growth.
Alternatives to furloughs and layoffs will be considered, such as outplacement services or temporary talent sharing. Longer term, changes in pay associated with “work from home” moves or transfers of headcount to lower cost locations or to contingent talent may be part of the solution, along with a reexamination of benefit plans and automated HR processes.
Return to Energy
As plans to return to a new normal begin to take shape, employers have a real opportunity to reaffirm their direction and values. Communication activity around updated goals and their impact on the employee experience will help drive a wave of new day-to-day practices individuals recognize and value.
With employees’ expectations for their employers to take care of them at an all-time high, companies ahead of the curve are taking the opportunity to reconfirm their value proposition and align benefits to values. Mercer’s research found that 47% of firms in APAC (compared to 39% globally) say they will review employee engagement efforts as a workforce priority in the next three to six months.
The near- to medium-term will be a rollercoaster as employers digest the full emotional and economic consequences of the pandemic and anticipate new waves of contagion. Employees will require energy and confidence to thrive – whether back in the workplace, still at home or embarking on assignment. Sustainable organisations are paying attention to make sure progress is not lost in areas such as D&I and pay equity.
“In many ways the pendulum of responsibility has swung from the public sector to the organization. Brand equity will be vital coming out of COVID-19. Employers that take systemic actions to improve the representation of underrepresented groups will achieve long-term success and the benefits that go along with it,” said Kate Bravery, Partner and Advisory Solutions & Insight Leader at Mercer.
Read more: A Guide to Navigating the Workplace in a Post-Pandemic World
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