Las Vegas, NV (WorkersCompensation.com) – Executive coffee talks, virtual water cooler meetings, focus groups, weekly health and safety updates, pay protection programs and special apps are among the creative approaches companies are taking to keep their employees on an even keel. Mental health and well-being have been severely challenged during the pandemic and some organizations have pulled out all the stops to ensure their workers feel engaged and empowered.
“Statistics from the pandemic are jaw-dropping,” said Teresa Williams, managing partner of HomeCare Connect. “There’s been a 40 percent increase in mental health distress, and a 30 percent increase in fatal opioid overdoses.”
The 14.7 percent unemployment rate reached last year was equal to that during the Great Depression. And Americans have averaged a 29-pound weight gain year-over-year during the pandemic.
During a session at the National Comp conference here Williams, along with representatives of an employer and payer outlined the hurdles they’ve faced and steps they’ve taken to retain employees and injured workers alike and help them and their companies operate effectively and efficiently.
“How do we navigate the new normal?” Williams asked. “Effective communication is the key to moving us forward. We all have to be on the same page, and that’s only done through communication.”
While the pandemic has created upheaval for all employees, that’s especially true for injured workers. Organizations need to make sure they are not left behind. “It’s important to make sure you’re talking to the injured worker, because that’s going to help them recover,” Williams said.
In an internal employee survey in Q3of 2020, Broadspire, a Crawford Company found that 53 percent agreed with the statement ‘I feel the current crisis has affected my mental well-being.’ “We said, we have to focus more on communication,” said Erica Fichter, COO of Broadspire’s Medical Management and A&H. “We added some well-being tools, held seminars, provided educational videos that brought to light [the idea that] ‘it’s OK to be concerned, to care about your injured workers. It’s OK to be empathetic, it’s fine, we’re all going through it.’”
The same survey conducted in Q1 2021 showed just 46 percent responded ‘yes’ to the question. “It showed a positive increase – 7 percent fewer employees felt the crisis was affecting their well-being. We thought we were doing the right things. We were very excited.”
Communicating effectively, with injured workers as well as other employees, involves several steps. One, for example, is active listening. “Nothing says ‘I don’t care’ to an injured worker as ‘I’m not listening to you,’” Williams said. “In order to be an effective leader you first have to have active listening skills and listen to what people tell you.”
Part of actively listening is asking questions. That, Williams says, signals that you are truly listening to employees. “It means you’re engaged with them.”
Communicating clearly and succinctly helps employees and others be able to make decisions based on the information you give them. That can be especially important during the pandemic. “We get lots of mixed messages, so as a leader you have to be very clear and concise,” Williams said. “It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Everyday we get new information about the virus. We’re all navigating this together.”
Along with active listening is the idea of reflective listening, where you clarify and summarize what the other person is saying. “An order or process can easily go sideways if you don’t have everybody on the same page, from an address where they are staying to a physician’s orders,” Williams explained. “We do lots of teaching of employees, if you don’t know, ask a question; ‘if you need [meds] delivered to gramma’s house instead of your house.’ So you know.”
Providing feedback and being empathetic are also communication skills that can be vital. Employees, and especially injured workers need to know you hear them and that what they say is important to you, in order to develop trust and rapport.
“The number one reason injured workers get attorneys is because they don’t trust someone to do the right thing for them and they get jaded in the process,” Williams said. “Developing trust means they are less likely to sue, they are [more likely to engage], and reach better outcomes.”
Additional Strategies to Engage Employees
Communicating with employees during the pandemic can and should be done in a variety of forums, the speakers said. Every situation is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Approaches need to be creative.
“One thing we did is started with an Executive Coffee Talk,” Fichter said. “A small group of about 10 to 15 people meet with an executive leader of a team and talk about what they are feeling and they get to talk with each other to say, ‘hey, I haven’t thought about that;’ that opportunity in a safe environment, in a safe zone, about what they are feeling.”
Interacting with colleagues is among the biggest downsides to the work-from-home model. Broadspire addressed the issue with Virtual Walter Cooler Meetings. “The goal was, don’t talk about business; we are here to talk about you. We want to hear what you are doing , fun things you are doing,’” Fichter said. “It’s just getting away from work because we know you have to balance that work and life…the line becomes very blurry from work from home.”
Fichter also explained the company’s ‘Friday emails,’ which offer a chance just to touch base with employees on a friendly level. “I’m sure my team is tired of hearing about my two cats,” she joked. “I share recipes, different holiday things. It’s just engaging the team.”
One company, Ecolab Inc., developed 50 focus groups and hired a medical provider to speak directly with its staff members throughout the world. “The doctor on staff virtually worked with senior leadership to understand the science and COVID-19 in different parts of the world and help employees so they were better equipped to work in this environment,” said Dawn Soleta, Claims manager for Ecolab. “We also had our CEOs do videos on a regular basis – weekly or monthly – and send letters across the world.”
The company also made what she called a financial commitment. Many of the organization’s employees are field workers in a variety of countries, and most have to wear respirators. “N-95s were in short supply,” Soleta said. “We did not allow our employees to wear a dirty mask, did not ask them to wear [the same] mask each day. If they could not go into the field, we had to protect them.”
A ‘Pay Protection Program’ ensured that the company’s commissioned-based employees would get income for a couple of months as they awaited adequate supplies.
“Our focus was on those in the field,” Soleta said. “We were successful in finding the needs they had.”