Managers are on Front Lines of Employee Safety Struggle


The shift to remote work has been massive and, for many, transformative. But not all companies intend to remain remote, with many returning to work as lockdown restrictions have eased. Whether remaining at home or returning to work, however, COVID has sparked significant concerns over employee safety which have become an area of focus for HR professionals in every industry.

Whether it’s the use of masks around the workplace, concerns over employees dealing with disgruntled customers refusing to comply with mask mandates or the increased prevalence of mental health and burnout as the lines between home and work blur more than ever before, HR professionals are having to look after their people as they attempt to see employees through this crisis.

How HR teams are going about looking after employee safety is mostly focused on an approach that can be defined as tactical, according to research from Appian and LTM Research. In other words, the focus has been on creating safe, socially distant work environments. This may involve health screenings, increased sanitization efforts or limiting the number of people present in the workplace.

But employee safety efforts also need to be strategic. Recent results of our own polls via LinkedIn, suggest mental health has become many an HR professionals biggest concern. Whichever it is, for the organization there is no bigger priority right now than creating a sense that the organization cares and that the work environment is entirely safe.

Employee Safety Strategy

For many, the strategy for employee safety has been satisfied mostly by implementing remote work wherever possible, but that has increased the susceptibility of employees to the new hazard of mental health and burnout, as employees work odd hours and struggle to draw the lines between work and the rest of their lives.

This has created an entirely new conversation about employee engagement, experiment and feedback. Employers who don’t support their employees in drawing those lines in a way that suits their lives are finding they have people who are frustrated and struggling to be as productive as they were pre-pandemic. Those with children feel as though their putting in multiple shifts each day. Even as schools reopen, they grapple with whether or not to put their children at risk by having them return.

Good quality breaks, be it lunch, dinner, midday walks or 30 minute meditation sessions are becoming a vital parts of the workday and something that company culture should not only suggest, but actively encourage or even mandate.

For essential employees or workers having to go into a physical location, things can be tougher. As much as possible, those people need to be allowed ways to cope with circumstances as they need to. Their time off is valuable and should be respected. Routes through workspaces should be managed, PPE provided, sanitation  constant and feedback a regular feature of HR’s communication with them.

Collecting feedback may be an HR function, but acting on it tends to start with managers. After all, it’s the managers that will help implement any policy driven by insight gained through feedback. HR, therefore, needs to start with managers as they look to address employee safety measures and create a better work environment for everyone.

Feedback Points to Managers

Feedback may yield some insights that help HR plan its next more or improve current employee safety measures. But it’s also a good barometer for gauging how managers are faring in this new normal.

A recent study from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that revealed that employee mental health may be aided not by companywide initiatives, but increased training for their specific managers.

READ: Why Examining Employee Experience Strategies is a Must During Uncertain Times 

The fact is managers are facing an unfamiliar challenge. Many of them cut their teeth in office environments and are new to the work from home style of working and culture. Their expectations, communication styles and desire to stick to what has always worked for them can cause problems for employees who simply can’t adhere to it now.

According to the research, 84% of U.S. workers say poorly trained managers create a lot of unnecessary work and stress. Additionally, 57% of American workers feel their managers would benefit from training on how to be a better people manager and said that their performance would improve if the training helped.

The top skills people would like to see their managers improve were:

  • Communicating effectively
  • Developing and training the team
  • Managing time and delegating
  • Cultivating a positive and inclusive team culture
  • Managing team performance  

The data was released along with the announcement of SHRM’s new interactive virtual learning program for managers, the People Manager Qualification (PMQ) created to help them build these types of skills.

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