Article by Denise Gallagher and Jennifer Holdstock
Covid-19 will affect every business in Australia in some way. Some will have no choice but to close their doors, some will have to reduce staff, reduce their hours and some may be able to keep their business running but from home.
It is a very anxious time for everyone. Big changes may lie ahead and it is important to communicate this to your employees and customers on a continuing basis.
We have heard several disappointing stories in the past two weeks that have led to the publication of this article.
In one case, a national law firm had no communications with their staff as at the middle of last week, other than to ascertain people’s capability to work from home. In another case (another law firm), people had been directed to work from home two weeks ago, and had been liaising with their colleagues but had heard nothing from their managers.
While it is understandable that decisions are being made on the run, and in the face of rapidly changing government advice, it is simply not good enough not to have frequent communication with staff and customers. Knowledge is power and reassurance can really help people who suffer from anxiety, particularly in changing times.
If you are in the unfortunate position of having to make people redundant, be straight to the point and upfront with staff. Whilst you need to have empathy and understanding, don’t try and sugar coat things or leave staff in the dark not knowing if they are going to have a job next week.
If you have to let staff go, the sooner they know this the sooner they can put measures in place to deal with it.
If you are standing staff down, make sure they know what rights they have in that position and direct them to the appropriate sources for up to date and reliable information.
While staff are stood down, they are still your employees, so keep in contact with them. Where possible, try to give updates and check in regularly to ensure people are coping.
Reduction in earnings or hours
You may have to reduce employees’ hours, redeploy some of them or reduce salaries. Whilst a lot of staff might not be happy about this, they need to understand why you are doing this. For many, they will just be happy to still be employed, for others they may not be able to financially cope with these changes and need to make other arrangements regarding employment.
Changes to ordinary business operations
For some employees who remain working for the business, there could be a lot of changes to be made. A big change for most people is that they are now working from home. For many employees, this will be unfamiliar territory.
Remember that employers have a duty of care to their employees. Just because they are working from home and you are not seeing them in the office it is important that you don’t just send them home and forget about them. Keep them up to date with what is going on with the business, with clients, with any further changes.
Ensure they have all they need to work efficiently at home and that they understand what is expected from them. Make sure that they have someone that they can communicate with if they have any problems. Employers may need to be flexible and understanding towards employees during this very difficult time.
For many employees who are working from home, their day now consists of working, parenting and teaching! It is important to touch base with your employees on a regular basis and ensure that they are keeping well mentally and physically.
Where operations are affected or interrupted and this will lead to delays in servicing clients or delivering to customers, communicate this to clients or customers in advance, do not wait until deadlines have passed and for the complaints to start rolling in. Where possible, a communication could save a complaint and do wonders for goodwill moving forward.