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Your Real-World HR Questions Answered!

As we enter a new phase of the pandemic and workplaces are shifting again, many of us in the nonprofit sector have complex human resources issues to address. Envision connected with the HR whizzes at EXPERT EFFECT to get the latest scoop on health and safety issues with offices reopening, workplace culture changes, and balancing employee flexibility and workforce productivity. Thank you to Victor Lopez, Clark Souers, and Mary Walden of EXPERT EFFECT for sharing their insights!*

Some employees are thrilled to return to a more “normal,” face-to-face office environment, while others are more reticent to resume their pre-pandemic work situation. How can employers navigate the range of feelings everyone is experiencing?

Mary: Organizational psychology is more important now than ever before. Whatever was simmering in your workplace, the pandemic ripped off the bandage – so now we need to really understand what’s going on. Employee surveys are a great tool to gauge where heads and hearts are in terms of returning to the office, as well as all the disruption and change in the past year with work/life struggles, social justice movements and more. Once you have the data from the surveys, you can make better decisions based on what your employees have shared.

Clark: We’re all experiencing nostalgia for the way things used to be, whether that’s eating inside a restaurant or going to work. The reality of this “new normal” will continue to be challenging and different: smaller groups of people gathering, masks and other precautions still in place, and some lingering worries and awkwardness. As employers, we have to make a big effort to create a new environment that people will embrace. The foundation of that new environment is your organizational culture and core values. Spend time focusing on the strengths of your team and talking about how to create a peak work experience.

Do you have suggestions for how to transition employees who have been working from home since March 2021 back to the office?

Victor: For most organizations, the end goal is to get back to everyone working on site. But it’s going to be a phased process and there might be a permanent re-thinking of some roles. Some employees appreciate the hybrid approach to work with some days in the office and some days remote and want to continue that flexibility. It’s critical to have a defined process for making decisions about hybrid work arrangements: criteria for evaluating requests, who makes the decision, timelines, and options for re-visiting in the future. And of course, the process needs to be clearly communicated to employees.

Clark: We also need to keep an eye on our high performers who have been working at unsustainable levels for the past year. Now that life activities are resuming, commutes are again part of our daily lives, and time has passed, they’re at risk for burnout or a serious drop in productivity. Let’s reset how we lead and manage so we find a new balance of employees thriving AND work getting done. Most organizations have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP); let’s look for ways to leverage that resource all the time, not just during a crisis. This is also an opportunity to look at innovative, customized wellness solutions for your workforce – and they don’t have to cost a lot of money! A simple starting point is working collaboratively to craft a wellness statement for your organization, and then identifying ways to bring it to life on a day-to-day basis.

What about organizations that have both frontline workers who have been “in the trenches” during the pandemic and office workers who have been working from home? How can we bring everyone back together from a workplace culture standpoint?

Victor: In addition to the values-based teambuilding that Clark mentioned, this is a great opportunity to revisit the employee handbook. The handbook is usually written from a risk management standpoint, but the added step that can make a big difference is reviewing with a compassion lens. How can your employee handbook help employees get the support they need to do their jobs well and navigate the experience of working at your organization?

Let’s talk nuts and bolts of HR in Spring/Summer 2021. What are the health and safety issues we need to navigate, and how can we stay on top of the changes?

Mary: The situation is definitely evolving. As of this conversation on May 19, 2021, for those of us in California, CalOSHA is still requiring all employers to have a prevention plan in place that includes social distancing, daily health surveys and temperature checks, air filtration, masks indoors, disinfecting surfaces, etc. This might change in the weeks and months ahead, but it’s important for employers to focus on OSHA requirements. By and large, employees appreciate the added layer of safety from their employers, so we see value in keeping health and safety protocols in place for the time being. It definitely gets complex with different guidelines from the CDC and state and local public health departments, so we always encourage organizations to work with your legal counsel to understand your jurisdiction and situation.

Victor: In terms of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations in your workplace or asking who has been vaccinated, it’s also prudent to take your time and proceed carefully and thoughtfully. There would need to be a compelling and documented reason to mandate vaccinations in your office, with a process for accommodations requests and clear decision criteria. In general, most of our clients are “encouraging” COVID-19 vaccination, but not requiring it.

Mary: As an employer, it’s important to remember we need to safeguard our employees’ private health concerns, and that includes whether or not they’re vaccinated. The less we know about medical issues, the better. One approach I’ve seen that works well is sharing a “do and don’t” tip sheet to educate employees about talking about vaccinations and other health issues in the workplace.

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*The professionals at EXPERT EFFECT are human resources professionals. The comments in this article are not legal advice. Organizations should seek counsel from employment/labor attorneys for their specific situations.