According to mental healthcare provider Ginger, 69 percent of workers say the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most stressful period of their careers. Not only have never-ending news cycles and social media misinformation stirred up uncertainty, but there’s been a spike in anxiety and depression as many of us see members of our own communities get sick, struggle through isolation, or worry about losing jobs.
In the best of times, our community’s health and well-being should be a priority. Now, it’s a central focus. Because behind the headlines, statistics, and charts are real people with real concerns about being able to care for themselves and their families. It’s on employers to recognize the needs behind the numbers.
What employers can do
By staying in constant communication with your workers and extending empathy, you can do your part to alleviate their stress.
Keep workers up to date. What’s going on in the company and what changes can they expect? Even if that means telling them you’re not sure yet. Proactive communication lets them know they’re part of the team and that their concerns are yours, too.
According to Erin Wheeler, Director of People and Culture at One World Direct, the company has added COVID concerns to its daily safety discussions. Rundowns about general warehouse safety now include conversations about social distancing, hand washing, and protective gear.
We’ve also been clear about the importance of following safety regulations and taking extra precautions to foster a supportive and protective environment for workers and clients alike. For instance, no visitors are allowed in OWD facilities. If a client has to come to the building to drop off or pick up inventory, we ask them to wait outside the building while we bring the goods out to them. In addition, we’re waiting an additional 24 hours before handling inbound products.
“Overall, the response has been positive,” Wheeler said. “The overall feeling of the facilities has gone from fearful in the first couple of weeks of the pandemic to a calmer and more secure feeling. Our employees are still worried about the virus, but we’ve taken visible steps to show our concern about our employees and their loved ones.”
Ask your employees and contractors how they’re doing. What are their work-related concerns, and how do those concerns intersect with personal-life worries? Stress, anxiety, and isolation don’t affect everyone the same. Actively listening lets workers know they’re not in this alone.
One World Direct conducted a COVID-19 employee survey to determine the biggest areas of concern so we could get to work addressing them. Employees wanted protections like hand sanitizer to be more readily available, but they also wanted management to know how uncomfortable some protective gear could get on the job. Face coverings are essential, but they can definitely get hot.
And ultimately, they told us they wanted more communication about the state of the business — specifically from OWD co-founder and CEO Thomas Unterseher.
Based on employees’ answers, be prepared to get innovative and take action. Are there policies, processes, and deadlines that can change, even temporarily, to accommodate challenges in workers’ day-to-day? How can you help workers access and navigate COVID resources? And beyond the necessities, are there perks you can offer to help brighten their days?
OWD has stayed nimble throughout the COVID pandemic and has avoided closing for a single day so far. “As the safety orders and guidelines were issued, we adapted our protocols the same day,” Wheeler said. “In fact, most of the time, we were ahead of the curve. We put together a sanitizing and social-distancing protocol many days before the local mandates were issued.”
And we kept moving once we got the employee survey results back. We responded directly to workers’ concerns about hot face coverings. While we had to follow safety mandates, we put out large floor fans and ice water stations throughout the buildings. We also ordered cooling towels for workers to wear around their necks. And we distributed OWD washable water bottles to all employees so they could keep a cool drink with them at their workstations.
Workers also wanted hand sanitizer in more locations throughout our buildings, and they got it. Our dedicated Ohio team even shipped homemade sanitizer to their colleagues in other warehouse locations when national supplies were scarce.
That community spirit has only grown. When masks weren’t readily available, both employees and their families jumped into action. Including Wheeler’s mom, who loves to quilt and works for a fabric/quilt shop in Beaumont, California. “She and my brother made 100 fabric masks for our Mira Loma crew. Everyone received two masks each.”
South Dakota warehouse employee Teresa Romans made dozens of masks for our warehouse teams in both South Dakota and Ohio. Romans, and OWD supplies manager Dawn Feyereisen, also made masks for our customer service center employees. They delivered the masks they could and mailed the others to our remote workers.
And who doesn’t love a gift basket, especially when it includes precious rolls of toilet paper? Feyereisen worked with OWD’s paper suppliers to order 100-count boxes of toilet paper — “a small mountain,” Wheeler said — to assemble baskets for employees. In California, workers’ toilet-paper gift bags also included water and cloth face coverings. Customer service center employees received colorful spring treats with their TP. And while some workers loved the idea of getting a big lunch at work, others were thrilled to get gift cards to local fast food establishments.
Perhaps one of the most valuable responses was hearing directly from Unterseher.
“Tom sent an email letting everyone know that OWD is open, operational, and our clients were paying their invoices, so we all still had a job,” Wheeler said. “This email was especially powerful since it also communicated with our multiple at-home employees, who had been absent from the myriad of on-floor discussions in the warehouses and who also couldn’t see the changes taking place.”