Amidst the changing COVID-19 guidelines for workplaces, company leaders need to ensure that their employees remain safe and well-supported as they adapt to changes in their working environment. At the same time, many employees have their own worries about COVID-19, which could affect how they approach their work.
In an interview with Singapore radio outlet, CNA938 on 25 May 2021, Dr Low Wei Kiang, Medical Director at International SOS, provided some insight as to what business leaders in Singapore can do to ensure their workforce remains resilient throughout these changes, and how to best prevent and mitigate the challenges that could arise in this ever-evolving pandemic.
Read on for some snippets of Dr Low’s conversation with CNA938.
CNA938: How should bosses be communicating changes to working arrangements, since there are a lot of fears and anxieties amongst employees? Is it about setting up regular communication avenues?
Dr Low: There's really no one size fits all [method], as it changes with the situation. As the situation gets better or worse, and if there are new triggers and news updates that are coming up, then communication should definitely be more regular. Overall, there should be clear communication and transparency to keep all employees well-informed.
Firstly, open and regular updates on the Covid-19 situation help to reassure the workforce and provide confidence during uncertain times. Getting professionals in to help with updates and answering questions has helped tremendously during this period as well.
Secondly, they should also keep their employees involved and get their views on policies and procedures, with no fear of repercussions. This ensures that their concerns are heard and understood, and can reduce the levels of anxiety associate d with new changes. This can be implemented via anonymous feedback or through people managers, depending on the organisation and its culture.
CNA938: It is a very difficult time for a lot of people. What can business and HR leaders do to support their employees emotionally during this time?
Dr Low: I like to draw analogies from physical health: we go and see a doctor, we undergo diagnostics, we re-stratify, and then we do treatment. I think mental health should be no different, be it from an individual or a workforce point of view.
The first part is diagnosing and knowing your workforce. We have done clinically validated tests for emotional health and resilience. These provide a big picture of the overall mental health of the workforce, and whether there are any facets that are lacking. We can look at things, like productivity and sick days, that tell us whether we are functioning at a high level or if we are languishing. We can also monitor sentiment and seek feedback.
For the risk triaging part, the tests we do are non-individualised because of privacy issues. However, we can get more information about the workforce that informs us on the direction we need to take. Knowing the risk profile for the workforce helps us tell when some of the employees may be at a higher risk as well. Some examples include those with known mental disorders, those recently diagnosed with a major illness, or even someone who has just given birth. Other than these, triggers such as lockdowns, returning to work, negative news about a company, being placed on quarantine, and being a close contact of a Covid-19 case can be issues that will increase risk too.
And of course, we want to provide support. At a larger level, we’ve been doing a lot of resilience training for our clients’ workforce. Channels for care should be available—for mental health, we are talking about Employee Assistance programmes, which include telehealth programmes, and access to mental health professionals or wellness providers. An upcoming trend is leveraging on peer and manager support, along with appropriate training, so that employees can reach out to one another and do have to not have to fear broaching certain topics when one sees that their colleagues are not well.
I think it is actually a golden opportunity to show that you care for your employees. When people feel vulnerable, how they're treated becomes something very emotional and very symbolic. Organisations that treat people with care at this pivotal moment will develop very positive and strong emotional bonds with their employees, and build loyalty to the company.
CNA938: Other than helping office employees, what are some key strategies for protecting the entire workforce, including groups such as business travellers and site-based workers?
Dr Low: I think the principles of open communication, education and verified information are applicable to everyone, but we have to look at the different subgroups as well.
For people like business travellers, their work is related to travelling the country they are in, or working in different countries. For them, we focus a lot on trying to create a safe “bubble” for them in their hotel and the transportation process, and throughout the course of their work. This also includes ensuring that they are aware and adhering to the changing regulations, getting the required testing and quarantine done, and helping them get their work done safely.
At the same time, we look at individual risk. There are certain individuals that are unsuitable to travel during this period, because the healthcare infrastructure in their host country may be stretched. If you have any chronic diseases and something goes wrong, you may not get the care that you need.
When it comes to different subgroups of employees, I think that the basic principle of looking at one’s work activity and individual risk will never go wrong.
How can we help?
International SOS is helping our clients to plan their vaccination strategies and protocols for the various employee population, including support for appropriate communication and education of employees for optimal outcome. Such support ensures the “readiness” of employers once relevant vaccine(s) become available in a given location.
On a country-by-country basis, International SOS is continuing to identify the additional support that can be provided to our customers in facilitating, within the rules established by the national authorities, vaccine access, its distribution and/or the vaccination of the employees for our clients.
If you would like to know how we can support your business, please contact us now.