As employers prepare to welcome employees back to their offices, it’s critical that employers prepare their staff for the “new normal” at work. Communicating new safety expectations in advance helps employees familiarize themselves with changes like different schedules and new safety protocols that involve wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased spacing of workstations.
Incentivizing and rewarding employees for compliance with COVID safety protocols can be a great foundation for a workplace safety program that extends beyond the immediate return to work. With June being National Safety Month, it is a great time to begin educating the workforce as more people return to in-office work environments.
Training and Education: Setting Expectation Around Safety
Just as you would train employees on safety when using equipment or during a fire drill, education and training in advance will not only encourage compliance with new safety measures, it can significantly reduce employee anxiety about being back in an office setting.
Safety training should be planned, delivered, and rewarded in phases. Some prior to the return to the office, some at the beginning of the return to the office and additional training as any return efforts scale up. These sessions are great ways to communicate with employees and check in on their comfort levels surrounding COVID risk in the office.
A great way to kick off training would be to require safety training that employees must complete in order to return to the office. This would cover critical expectation-setting topics like new safety procedures, any schedule adjustments, and key employee resources like employee handbooks and office policies.
To go through the safety elements of the program employers can offer employee incentives for compliance with new regulations and for the training, it takes to understand compliance. Additionally, separate incentives could be built specifically to encourage employee vaccination for those who may be hesitant to do so, making vaccination a specific component of the overall safety program.
Adding incentives during a return to work can also help raise general employee morale, regardless of how employees qualify for the rewards. Using flexible rewards like gift cards can be fit to any budget and easily delivered in physical or digital form make a great fit for safety programs as they evolve.
Finally, as you build COVID-specific training and education programs, ensure that there are built-in mechanisms for feedback and anonymous reporting for any violations. This will allow employees to express any behavior by colleagues that makes them feel unsafe at work.
Vaccines and the Return to Work
Vaccines can be a hot topic among employees requiring employers to treat the topic with a level of empathy and understanding. For hesitant employees (especially those in front-line positions) providing educational information and incentives to get vaccinated is important. Some incentives for this group could include:
- The ability to be mask-less in the office when around other vaccinated employees
- Access to break areas in the office that non-vaccinated people can’t enter due to liability
- Gift cards to incentivize for mildly hesitant employees. Gift cards to retail stores or restaurants they like could give them the final push to get vaccinated.
- Paid time off to get vaccinated (the cost for this incentive would be reimbursed for small businesses through a targeted tax credit).
For employees who are not hesitant to be vaccinated, or who may already be vaccinated, ensure that they understand the office guidelines for vaccinated employees and find a way to thank them for getting vaccinated.
Small-denomination gift cards can be a great “thank you” gift for this group as well since it demonstrates to the compliant employees that the organization is taking COVID precautions seriously as they reward vaccinated employees and incentivize hesitant employees to get vaccinated.
Keeping Employees Safe In-Person
Planning is key for a smooth return to work strategy but ensuring that employees are safe once they are actually in-person requires personal protective equipment (PPE) and often an adjustment of schedules.
As you consider how to keep employees safe, consider adjusting schedules so the office is never at 100% capacity. This could manifest as a team-by-team schedule integrated into a hybrid work model, or a staggered shift adjustment where some employees are in some hours of the day and other groups are in at other times.
Spacing is another key component to a safe work environment. Space employees appropriately when they are in the office. Mapping your workspace in advance can reduce any confusion as employees return.
Finally, make PPE available. Even though we have all been wearing masks for over a year, ensure there are extras around the office in case an employee needs one. Having hand sanitizer stations may also increase employee comfort levels as everyone makes the adjustment back to the office.
Employers are looking for resources and guides to make employees feel safe, secure and productive as they return to work following the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are trying to launch a broader employee safety program in your office, consider making some of these components permanent. Keeping incentives for safety compliance is a great way to launch a program in an approachable way for employees in the long term.
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