Employers across Indiana are entering a new phase in the ongoing, pandemic-driven challenge to preserve operational viability while protecting the health and safety of employees. With more than 250,000 Hoosiers receiving unemployment benefits, Indiana’s economic fate now rests in the hands of employers.

This would be a tremendous responsibility on its own, not to mention the added duty to prioritize employee safety and maintain proper social distancing.

So, how do business leaders prepare to re-open given so much uncertainty? The answer is to listen.

First, listen to the health experts. Last month, the CDC announced new guidance for how employers can begin bringing employees back to work. In their guidance, the federal government has asked employers to implement the following measures:

  • Take employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to their starting work.
  • If an employee becomes sick during the day, send them home immediately.
  • Test the use of face masks to ensure they do not interfere with workflow.
  • Increase air exchange in the building.
  • Increase the frequency of cleaning commonly-touched surfaces.

While these guidelines pertain to workers in critical infrastructure roles, the same measures are likely to be applied locally as Indiana counties begins easing workplace restrictions.

Previous CDC guidance for general businesses, which remains relevant, focuses on preventing workplace exposures and suggests employers take precautionary steps including implementing flexible sick leave policies, preparing for periods of prolonged employee absence, and enforcing social distancing practices in the work space.

Next, listen to your employees. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 73 percent of those surveyed believe the worst of this pandemic has yet to happen. The same survey also showed 66 percent of respondents fear state and local governments will ease public restrictions too quickly.

Given the high levels of public anxiety, it is up to business leaders to instill and maintain employee confidence.

Successful workplace behavioral changes are contingent upon trust and confidence in leadership. People must feel comfortable and confident that they are returning to a safe environment created by leaders who care for their well-being. 

Without a comprehensive, easily understood plan to ensuring employee safety – and clear communications supporting implementation – employee confidence is likely to falter.

Remember when setting guidelines that each employee is unique with different family and home situations. Some employees care for family members with health issues or immune deficiencies. Keep in mind the repercussions of organizational guidelines extend not just to employees, but to their loved ones at home as well.

Take the time to hear your employees’ complaints and suggestions, and understand that with most preventative measures, one size does not fit all.

Listen to the data as well, both qualitative and quantitative. As Governor Holcomb mentions during his daily briefings, plans are changing with statistics on the ground, which is exactly how business leaders must react. Plans should be reassessed weekly, sometimes daily, and adapted to meet the ever-changing landscape of a pandemic.

Listen to other leaders in the industry. Competitors may have been fierce rivals in the past, but they are dealing with the same challenges. Shared knowledge and successful practices can benefit both parties. Trade ideas. Consult on similarities and differences. This is a time for great leaders to converge and combat this communicable disease together.

As Hoosier business leaders, it is our duty to ensure employees don’t have to make a choice between their health and a paycheck; between their lives and their livelihood. Let’s all ensure a safer return to the workplace by keeping our ears, eyes and minds open.

Jeff Wells, M.D., is co-founder and president of OurHealth

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