Last year, organizations had to dust off their crisis plans amidst one of the most unexpected years the world has ever experienced.
For some companies, this meant shutting down dozens of offices, but it also meant watching thousands of new pop-up workplaces at their employee homes emerge practically overnight. Quick, reactive decisions were necessary but those executive decisions made in the best interest of employees were the ones that ensured the future of their businesses.
And as the country eagerly watched the ball drop and vaccine distribution become a reality, one thing is certain; our lives are forever changed. ‘Going to the office’ will likely never look the same again. And while change is challenging, the future of work holds so much potential worth celebrating.
The companies that handled the pandemic the best were the ones that understood the importance of maintaining transparent and open lines of communication with their employees.
Our efforts to work collaboratively with our teams inspired us to conduct a nationwide poll of current full and part-time employees in partnership with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research to understand what others have experienced. Our goal was to find out how employees in companies across the U.S. are coping with the challenges of COVID-19. We wanted to learn how they felt their employer handled the challenges and what more can be done to keep them and their families safe, healthy and thriving.
The poll found that while the majority of workers are experiencing more stress due to the pandemic, 75 percent of workers say their productivity has improved or remained the same. Despite obstacles, they remained committed.
On the surface, the numbers look positive but we know from our own experience during this time that it's taken considerable resources to ensure our employees have what they need, whether it's counseling, flex time, crisis leave or something more. Although it seems obvious, it is critical for employees to feel safe and happy. And we know that happy employees create happy customers, impacting a business’ bottom line and top line growth.
2020 taught us that we do not have to sacrifice one for the other. It’s also not impossible to achieve. It doesn’t involve a complete overhaul or reorganization. In most cases, it doesn’t even involve costly measures or significant changes in policy. Most employees are already there. According to our survey of employees across the country, we found that 81 percent feel that their employers are effective or going above and beyond in responding to the pandemic. Good intentions and real efforts go a long way to build good will with your workforce.
The only way we can come out from this stronger and more resilient, is if we do it together. So what will it take to retain employees, and keep them healthy, safe and less stressed?
At least half of poll respondents say it is very important for their employers to expand sick leave, provide flexibility for caregivers and support mental health — all areas in which employees felt efforts were lacking. Only about 1 in 10 say their employers are providing childcare facilities, stipends or tutoring services. In turn, 50 percent of women call the pandemic a major source of stress in their lives, compared to 36 percent of men.
When the country shut down, the nation recognized the shortfalls in the existing social programs. The private sector has an opportunity to help fill the gaps that exist.
At this point in the pandemic we are certain of two things. Number one, we plan for the best and prepare for the worst. Number two, safe and supported employees are better for business.
Change creates challenges and opportunities and our ability to adapt helps us empower our employees and build stronger, better companies. To maximize employee safety and satisfaction, employers must leverage listening tools to manage employee concerns, understand their priorities and then work together to find the right balance.
No one could have predicted this pandemic; too many lives have been lost from it. Let’s all work together to support one another and strive to be and do better. Our employees are worth it.
DJ Paoni is president of SAP North America, one of the world’s leading enterprise software companies with over 100,000 employees servicing more than 440,000 customers across the globe.