How Your Company Handles a Pandemic Speaks Volumes

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In my last post I talked about the fact that people are starting to pay more attention to how companies of all kinds treat their employees. I said:

They’re starting to make note of sick leave and work-from-home policies. They’re asking if workers are being provided with things to help keep them safe, regardless of whether or not they come into contact with customers. People are questioning when companies deem themselves “essential” and they don’t seem like they are. They’re noticing companies who have shifted production to things we need now: hand sanitizer, masks, and ventilators. People are starting to reconsider whether-or-not they should be supporting companies who aren’t taking this pandemic seriously and aren’t treating their employees right during it. And that’s going to, no doubt, have lasting effects on all companies after this is over.

And it’s true. But people aren’t just evaluating a company’s response to this pandemic as consumers. They’re looking at those things as current employees, and will no doubt be evaluating them as potential employees when that time comes for them.

Evaluating How Current Employers Are Handling Things

No matter where someone sits in a company’s hierarchy, most of us are seeing how our current employer is handling this pandemic. And for those of us lower down on the corporate ladder, we’re getting a real interesting view of it. In some cases, we’re getting direct personal experience, but we’re also seeing companies’ responses based on what friends and family are dealing with. Here are some things many of us are paying close attention to right now:

  • Statements made on social media, websites/blogs, and via email, and whether-or-not these statements include how employees are being treated during this time.
  • Sick leave policies, and whether-or-not they’ve been changed during the pandemic. Also, if those changes were made before or after any laws were put in place in response to the Coronavirus that mandated policies be changed.
  • Work-from-home policies, whether-or-not you’re allowing people to work from home, and what you’re providing employees to allow them to do so easily.
  • The speed with which policies changed, if there were signs of preparedness at all, and whether-or-not the company started making changes before local mandates were in place.
  • Productivity expectations, especially for those with children suddenly home.
  • Layoffs, furloughs, and/or schedule changes, plus the notice employees were given of such.
  • Pay cuts, bonus adjustments, changes to raise schedules, and other monetary changes for employees, as well as who was on the receiving end of them.
  • If you’ve designated your company as “essential”, and the reason(s) behind doing so.
  • What changes you’ve made to lunch and break schedules, to ensure employees who have to come to work are able to maintain recommended social distancing.
  • If you have added signage in restrooms to encourage proper hand washing.
  • What you are doing to ensure your facility is cleaned regularly and items used by multiple employees are sanitized properly.
  • If employees have been provided with any protective gear (masks or gloves), and if it’s required or optional to wear.
  • If hand sanitizer and cleaners have been made available and easily accessible to employees to use while at work.
  • Whether-or-not you have been allowing outside visitors (including children of employees) into your office/facility, and if you have been, why and what precautions are you taking to ensure visitors and staff are safe.
  • If the company was willing and able to pivot to accommodate different market or production needs, and how it did so.

In addition to these things being noted currently, there’s no doubt in my mind that any changes made during this time will continue to be evaluated as things get back to normal. No doubt employees will look back on this and remember how things were handled. And it’s worth noting, especially if your company has had a strict sick leave policy in place for years, or refused to allow people to work from home up until now.

Now is a great time to evaluate how your company can, going forward, provide a better workplace for employees. After all, we’ve got a great opportunity to really see what employees truly value about their work environments. For some reason unlimited coffee, beanbag chairs, happy hours, pot-luck lunches, and ping pong tables have been the things companies have pushed when it comes to “great culture”. But I’d wager that that all pales in comparison to being able to work from home if needed, or being able to take a sick day without having to provide a doctor’s note. So perhaps it’s time to dust off the old Employee Handbook and look at whether or not policies need to be updated. Chances are they do.

Using Pandemic Response to Evaluate Future Employers 

But we’re not just looking at all of the above things and thinking about our current employers. For many, finding a new job is something that needs to happen ASAP, as they were either already looking for work when this pandemic hit, or they were laid off because of it. For others, it’ll probably come up eventually, since longevity in a job isn’t as important as it once was. Either way, in the job-hunting world there’s talk about adding the following question to your list when interviewing:

How did your company respond to the COVID-19 outbreak?

It’s a very valid question, and that will no doubt tell someone interviewing a lot about the company they are interviewing with. The answer to this question will speak volumes about a company’s culture and the value it places on its employees. And with so many companies making public statements on how they’ve handled things, as well as social media being very active surrounding the pandemic, it’s pretty easy to verify the answer, or even know it prior to an interview. And that doesn’t even take into account when a company’s reaction is covered by the media.

But it might not be a deep enough ask. Looking at the above list of things employees are noticing about their own companies, I would instead add the following questions to my list of things to ask during an interview:

  1. Did the company shut down during the Coronavirus outbreak?
  2. What was the reasoning behind that decision, and what was done to ensure employee’s financial security and safety during that time?
  3. Were any policies evaluated and changed post-outbreak, or did things revert back to normal once everything was over with?
  4. Would you say you are proud of how this company responded to the outbreak?

Those questions should give anyone looking to join a company a good look at the value a company places on their employees as well as the company’s adaptability to change. The last question might be a tricky one to ask, but could give really good insight as to whether-or-not a company is a good fit based on the person’s answer (or non-answer). Answers to these questions will obviously vary, and answers that someone views as “acceptable” will also vary based on what’s important to them. But if you’re job hunting and care about an employer’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, you’ll know what you want to hear in response to those questions.

Ultimately, it’s clear that this pandemic is going to have lasting effects on companies from various fronts. Changes in relationships between employer and employee is one that might not have been obvious in the beginning, but it’s one that no doubt will change as time goes on.

Featured Photo by Polina Zimmerman, downloaded from Canva.

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