Since many associations were quickly thrust into remote work based on mandatory shutdown orders, not all the kinks were worked out. An HR expert discusses issues popping up in the new normal—from employee assistance programs to new expense requests.
As employees work from home and are dealing with stress, anxiety, and isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, associations are handling HR issues that haven’t come up before. Eileen Levitt, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CEO of The HR Team, ran through some of these and how organizations can help staff.
Employee assistance programs. EAPs, which offer free and confidential counseling to employees who have personal or work-related problems, have been in high demand since the pandemic began. If your association has one, Levitt recommends reminding your staff about the resource.
“We are sending out reminders of how to access the EAP, what it covers, and everything because that’s really important,” Levitt said. “We haven’t seen usage like this since September 11.”
Home office supply requests. Because the need to work from home happened quickly and was not initially expected to last as long as it has, some employees may not have the supplies and equipment they need. As a result, they are asking employers to pay for those items.
What’s being requested? Reimbursement for everything from printer paper and toner cartridges, to ergonomic chairs, to faster WiFi service. To manage this, some employers are repurposing their budgets to pay for work-from-home expenses. For example, companies that typically provide commuter assistance are choosing to automatically cover any expense requests up to the monthly transit they would normally provide. “That money has already been budgeted, so they are redeploying those transit dollars,” she said.
Flexibility with time. With schools closed in many jurisdictions, organizations have needed to relax what is typically a standard part of most telecommuting policies: that employees can’t care for children during working hours. “Companies are being more understanding,” Levitt said. “People are working more in sporadic bursts to squeeze it all in with everything else.”
In addition to flexibility around hours worked, organizations need to figure out if any changes or exceptions need to be made to their leave policies. For example, if employees had trips canceled because of COVID-19, can they now work instead of using their vacation time? Will employers with use-it-or-lose-it leave policies allow any flexibility?
And while there is the inclination to think employees won’t take vacation when there’s no place to go, Levitt said that’s not always the case. “Some people do want to take time off and just not work,” Levitt said. “Some people, even though they weren’t going anywhere, they wanted to do something with their child at home. They didn’t take a week. Instead, they took four hours of vacation to do whatever.”
Staying connected. Having staff working from home is like having people in several little offices, rather than one big one, so it’s important to maintain connections during this time. “What we are communicating to our clients is you cannot overcommunicate,” Levitt said. “Best practices are having regular check-ins, regularly scheduled interaction. I don’t think there is any set number of times that works for everyone. Every environment is different.”
She noted that many people are doing virtual happy hours—where everyone shows up on a video meeting with the beverage of their choice—or other virtual get togethers. “You want lots of one-on-ones and social events, not just on the phone, but on video,” Levitt said.
What new HR issues and questions have you seen pop up since your staff started working from home? Share in the comments.