People First – Why Protecting your employees is vital in today’s climate!

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‘If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and your business will take care of itself ‘J.W.Marriott’

The spread of COVID-19, (commonly referred to as Corona Virus) has now become a household term that is apparent worldwide. As a global health emergency, the hope is that the new vaccines that are aimed to roll out in early January 2021, will add to the greater safety of the human population, namely public areas and workspaces.

Though much of the frontline workers will be vaccinated first, followed by those considered in the vulnerable category, the goal for many countries is to ensure that their populations are vaccinated first.

As Governments/Employers respond to the crisis and slowing down the spread of the virus, decisions to postpone events, impose travel restrictions, withdrawal of everyday services; (restaurants, parks, beaches, cinemas, and entertainment venues) school closures, and work from home have been required. As some countries near full lockdown global stock markets have come tumbling down.

Employers are currently in the spotlight as they determine the balance between protecting employees, whilst maintaining business operations.  The pandemic has created a huge stressful experiment; the reality is, despite the potential vaccine, people are still living in fear, for their health, family/loved ones, and uncertainty around job security.

In many African countries, many governments have taken extreme measures to ensure the safety of their citizens. Kenya for instance has extended its curfew hours to ensure that people do not mingle in the evenings, and thus constraining populations to live responsibly. Similarly, in South Africa, the situation is the same, where curfew is causing people to act in a manner for the well-being of its citizens. The hope is that people can resume regular work-life operations.

‘Our people have and always will be my number one priority, it is their future job security and well-being which I am 100% focusing on, in these frightening and unprecedented times, we’ve prided ourselves on looking after those working for Virgin, for the past 50 years, we have always put our employees first and always will’ (Richard Branson, March 2020)

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ and embracing a ‘People First Culture’, will be essential in ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of all employees. Many companies across the continent, in particular in Kenya have sought to ensure that their people come first.

In Kenya, the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) worked with the Government of Kenya to devise measures to protect individuals from Covid’s negative effects, specifically for those who may have lost jobs.

The FKE as part of its mandate sought to address measures related to taxes, where employers were proposed to reduce their PAYE tax, VAT, and Tourism levies, in order to save funds to pay employees.

In addition, with tax incentives aimed to cushion the economy, the Government of Kenya decided to reduce VAT from 16% to 14%, for the year ending 2020, thus enabling employers to continue to retain employees. Corporate taxes also reduced from 30% to 20%.

With an aim to reduce greater layoffs, the Government of Kenya is seeking employees to address the Small business fund that enables MSME’s to access subsidized salary payments, which have been prosperous for many employers.

Despite the positives that Kenya’s government is engaged in, it is incumbent upon the Employers to ensure that they themselves engage in improved communication with retained employees.

This includes:

  • Regular, updates on what steps and measures are being put in place to protect employees.
  • Company policy on leave and sick pay
  • Awareness of latest public health advice
  • Business updates (performance/decisions)
  • Proactively communicate with employer/be upfront about expectations (working from home/with children at home cannot guarantee calls will be interruption-free)
  • Candidate experience – those who are in the process updated on the current position regarding:
  • Recruitment freeze
  • Onboarding of new hires
  • Honouring/remote onboarding for hires who have already signed a contract and handed in notice elsewhere

Understand/be aware of employee needs:

  • Underlying health issues
  • Care responsibilities
  • If businesses aren’t performing; downsizing (should be the last option), so understand how employee/employer can work together ‘furlough’ to reach mutually beneficial solution)
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‘After 9/11, at Virgin Atlantic, we consulted with and listened to our incredible employees, who virtually unanimously decided they would collectively volunteer to take unpaid leave for 8 weeks out of the next six and a half months, in order to limit financial hardships for everyone, secure the airline’s future survival and try and protect everyone’s job’(Richard Branson, March 2020)

Working flexibly

  • Work from home (where possible, and continue to communicate with employees/coworkers; daily catch-up, virtual lunch breaks – for engagement/motivation)
  • Be upfront about expectations (working from home/with children at home cannot guarantee calls will be interruption-free)

Embrace Technology

  • Video-conferencing
  • Opt for card payments/contactless/Apple Pay & Samsung Pay (rather than cash)
  • Online services/apps (shopping/banking)
  • Self-service till banks
  • Scan and go devices/apps
  • Creating digital space so coworkers can share files/productivity

Collaborating

  • Identify transferable skills (re-deployment of coworkers)
  • Upskill coworkers for business continuity (absenteeism, another co-worker can step into the role )

Despite the continued focus on ensuring that Kenya’s Government is working toward rebuilding its economy.  It is unbeknownst that economy will continue to suffer, but the key in 2021 is to ensure that the slowdown that took place over 2020 is improved by adjusting to the crisis and embracing the employees are the lifeblood of an economy and the livelihoods of their respective families.

We need to accept that the economy has been impacted, the current slow-down in business operations, as Governments and Employers have responded and adjust to the respective curfews has been a mandatory aspect of sustainability across Kenya and for that matter in many other parts of Africa. However, everything is temporary and eventually, the situation will stabilize.

As an Employer what message do you want to deliver? And, how do you want to be remembered for how your employees were treated during COVID-19 in 2020?

By Shahnaz Miah

Shahnaz Miah is an innovative dedicated and engaging Learning and Development Professional, who has worked closely with; Nike, Under Armour, Reebok, Puma, Converse, Adidas, ACE, Homeworks, Reebok, KIABI, and Toys ‘R’ Us across MENA and SEA. Shahnaz has achieved Associate CIPD status and is committed to good practice, Professional Development, and Code of Professional Conduct. This allows her to deliver innovative and creative learning solutions to meet both delegate and company needs.

 

 

 

 

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