The HR perspective on managing employees during COVID-19

5 min read

One of the major hits we’re experiencing during COVID-19 is job uncertainty, changes to employment, and the way we manage and administer employees.

As an employer, it’s up to you to be completely across entitlements, options and support while communicating this clearly to your employees.

This is more than administration, though, we also need to adapt the way we think about and interact with our valued team members. We’ll undoubtedly need to revamp the way we manage employees and to give some insight we chatted to Reckon’s HR Advisor, Pier Parmentier.

Changes to employee leave

This is the time when it’s in the nation’s best interest to look after staff and keep them gainfully employed – for all involved.

There’ll be significant government assistance aimed at achieving exactly this. However, measures of leave will also need looking at.

Using and amending employee leave may well be necessary in spite of assistance.

“Having a complete understanding of your employee’s leave entitlements, balances and rights is essential,” says Pier Parmentier.

Make a plan around how you’ll approach the subject of leave and how you’ll communicate this to staff.

For many business owners, the thought of having to let staff go during a downturn is a major source of stress.

After applying for any government assistance for staff you’re entitled to, also be aware of measures you can take – short of termination.

Can you change an employee’s regular hours of work?

Reducing a permanent employee’s ordinary hours usually requires the employee’s agreement and is typically completed via consultation.

Other options that may be considered instead of standing down employees include:

  • Seeking employees’ agreement to take paid (or unpaid) leave for a period.
  • In certain circumstances, directing employees to take paid annual leave.
  • In certain circumstances, negotiating with employees to change regular rosters or hours of work.
  • In certain situations, terminating the employment of the employees, in which case the employer may have to provide redundancy pay.

The Fair Work Commission recently varied some awards to provide flexibility during the COVID-19 outbreak. The following awards have already been varied in relation to taking annual leave:

  • Hospitality Award
  • Clerks Award
  • Restaurant Award

The way you communicate needs to change

It’s important for managers and employers to make communication a top priority. Ensuring information is clearly and frequently communicated, whether that is via Slack, email and/or regular one-on-ones through Microsoft Teams.

Make a plan for regular communication.  Choose how and when your team will communicate while working remotely.

For instance, you may want to have a regular Monday morning conference call or a daily 10-minute check-in.

“Don’t expect remote workers to be at their desks nine to five,” says Pier.

“Be understanding of the fact that many employees have children out of school and a range of new responsibilities to attend to at varying times.”

You’ll need to set clear expectations of how and when your team communicates.

Change management

‘Change management’ never had such resonance! This is likely the largest change to employment in living memory – so managing it deftly is essential.

We have all been forced to adjust to a new way of working and establishing it as the new normal.

“It’s important for managers to ensure they’re managing change and leading change throughout their teams successfully and efficiently whilst keeping in mind the wellbeing of their team members,” says Pier.

Set obvious expectations

Setting out clear expectations with your team members, along with all the tools and information they need is vital. Make sure you don’t forget to ask what support they need from you as well. Create a two-way street.

Understand that these unfamiliar work arrangements represent an unprecedented adjustment and adaption period, with not everyone equal.

“You should be sensitive to the fact that some team members are potentially in more challenging working environments than others,” says Pier.

“From the very beginning at Reckon we asked employees to complete a survey to ensure they had everything they needed to be able to work from home.”

Supporting employees

Understandably some employees will be experiencing extra feelings of anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or struggling mentally in general.

“At Reckon, we’ve encouraged conversations around how you’re feeling and your own strategies for managing individual resilience,” says Pier.

If an employee doesn’t feel comfortable talking to their manager, we also recommend talking to a counsellor through an EAP program, which is offered to Reckon employees for free.

Maintaining employee connection

From the beginning, maintaining a team environment was prioritised at Reckon and all businesses should pursue their own permutation.

“Reckon prides themselves on having a great company culture, so this was something we did not want to lose,” says Pier.

“In order to maintain that positive workplace culture from afar, we created Slack channels dedicated to virtual social activities, organised by the social committee, ‘Friday Night Drinks’ over Zoom as well as the continuance of our wellbeing initiatives each month.”

Regular updates from senior leaders

Leaders exist for a reason – be visible and ensure you’re championing initiatives and starting conversations. People need to see you.

Whether it’s via Slack, email or in monthly team meetings, having regular updates from your Senior Leaders regarding any company changes, government announcements or employee conditions is vital.

“This communication and strategy from the top creates a sense of reassurance and eliminates the chance of employees feeling as though they’ve been kept in the dark,” says Pier.

We hope this has given you something to think about and might apply some learnings to your own business. We’ll get through this together. Stay safe everyone.

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