Gustavo Linares
Expert Contributor

Are Employees and Employers Ready to Come Back?

By Gustavo Linares | Wed, 05/13/2020 - 12:43

As we continue through the second month of quarantine in Mexico, there has been an increase in articles and webinars discussing the future impact on the labor market and competencies that employees will need to develop post-COVID-19, as if we have already overcome the current situation. That is why I think as employees and employers, we must take a step back and think strategically about the current situation in order to succeed in the future.

Currently, many countries are lifting their quarantine measures and as per Mexico’s authorities, the quarantine measures here also will soon be lifted, albeit gradually, in different cities across the country. That makes me wonder, are we as employers and employees ready to come back to the workforce with the same feel or confidence as if nothing happened? 

COVID-19 has exacerbated the economic crisis, causing massive layoffs. In some other cases in Mexico, workers have been forced to “voluntarily” apply for special leaves without pay for up to three months or have been forced to resign. According to the UN International Labor Organization, COVID-19 could claim almost 25 million jobs worldwide. The consequences of this are not only economical but also harmful to our own mental health. We have all been through fear, anxiety and concern, not only because of the worry of losing ours jobs but as well with the possibility of losing a loved one or even our own lives. That is why once the quarantine starts to be lifted, HR directors, heads of departments and CEOs must be fully ready to safely welcome back all their staff who had to work from home and any newcomer who will be incorporated into their team. This is the time to focus on a strategic plan to take care of our employees. This, in return, will help companies earn the trust and loyalty of their employees who will know that their health and safety are taken into consideration. 

Based on my own experience, this will not be last time we will face a similar situation. Unfortunately, in 2009 at the peak of the US financial crisis, I had to lay off 35 percent of our personnel. In 2011, when I was an HR manager in the Middle East, I had to lay off 40 percent of the personnel working at hotel properties when the war in the Middle East broke out, affecting many countries like Syria, Egypt and Bahrain. Nevertheless, when the American economy and most of the Middle Eastern countries recuperated, we had to massively recruit for many vacancies that we needed to fill urgently. Luckily, our employee experience strategy helped us retain and attract more talent. Why? Employees will always remember the way employers treat or treated them, not only during their time at the company but also during unprecedented and difficult times. For example, we offered all our staff members  good health insurance while they were unemployed in addition to providing psychological help. 

Losing your job, or even half of your salary, has been said to compare with the feeling associated with the loss of a loved one. Now that the quarantine will be lifted, are we ready to have all our employees feeling happy, confident and at ease? The Mexican government has issued a checklist for employers to help them conduct a situational diagnosis of the conditions, equipment, resources and necessary materials that must be considered to guarantee the safe return of workers to their work centers. Nevertheless, this preventive checklist only emphasizes the COVID-19 measures needed to stop it spreading between employees who will return to work. As heads of departments, we should not use only this preventive checklist. We should also create our own, emphasizing our needs and wants as an organization. Based on my experience, employee morale will be low, and so too will their productivity. As leaders, we need to guide them and strengthen their potential to help bring out the best in them. Our welcome back strategy should keep in mind their health, safety and growth within the company. Employees who had to work extra shifts or cover other positions should be recognized. Employees who had their salary cut in half should also be recognized for their empathy and sense of belonging to the organization.

This is the time to really focus on the employee experience in the same way you take care of the customer experience. Recognize employees with nonmonetary rewards that can include small tokens of appreciation such as extra holidays, online courses, flex time or having an in-house psychologist once a week. Investing time, energy and empathy in our employees is an investment that will pay off in the long run. Employees need their employers like never before, and vice versa. During hard times, we sometimes see the tree standing alone instead of watching the entire forest and taking care of it. Start preparing yourself to welcome back your employees in a strategic way, providing an experience that they will never forget and will be forever grateful for

Photo by:   Gustavo Linares