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Reopening and Returning to Work: The Long Term Consequences of the Decisions You Make Today

As states consider lifting stay-at-home orders, a combination of actions from different entities – from federal to local – could create an untenable situation for many individuals.

Here in Georgia, as one of the last states to shut down, it’s one of the first states now jumping in to re-open non-essential businesses, though not without hot debate (just to name a few: Georgia Governor KempAtlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms; Trump one way and of course than, the other; Local businesses in favor and against). 

Consider that many of these non-essential businesses – think hair salons, gyms, tattoo parlors – are high touch industries, often historically employed by minorities. When employment is already at will and being a part of a “right to hire” state, job security continues to be a deep concern. Not to mention, executive mandates under consideration to remove liability for employers if employees were to get sick on the job. Many will face the choice between healthcare and health, putting food on the table or being infected by coronavirus. Those that can afford it, can afford to avoid the risk.

Not all states are incentivizing economic recovery over public safety. Perhaps because they’ve already learned the lesson that lack of public safety creates economic risk? For example, in California, the homeless situation is already a nascent problem. The last thing needed is people unable to pay rent – and that means ensuring greater protection and security for employees.

This all begs the question: what choices are being made now that will support systemic injustice? What choices are worth risking public safety over?

Amidst a desire to get back to profits, your business might be considering reopening as well. As an employee or employer, here are some things to consider and ask.

Asked to Return? What You Should Be Asking Back

If your employer has asked you to return, here’s some things you should be asking…and documenting.

  • Start by asking “How are you protecting me?” It’s not just the gear. Ask about the protocol. If it’s a restaurant, are you going to be standing six feet away from customers? Is the business going to require customers to wear protective gear to be served?
  • Is your employer asking you to bring your own protective gear? Consider this a sign that they are not ready to be opened. Whatever they ask you to bring – be it gloves, masks, or cleaning supplies – in whatever format – text, email, or call – document it and get it in writing. That way you can say what your employer has and doesn’t have ready.
  • Do you see an unsafe environment when you do return? Take pictures. Be able to prove that it’s not safe. Documentation can help you gain the proof you need to file or continue to maintain unemployment income, if your employer puts your life at risk.

Reopening? What You Should Prepare for Employees

As a business owner, if you are considering reopening, you are probably trying to strike a balance between many needs – needs for maintaining your and your employees’ financial security along with safety for all. Here’s a few things to get right:

  • Worth It? Really consider if it’s right to re-open. Is your business’ value proposition likely to be engaging to customers during this time and is it worth risking your employees’ lives? Does it make sense for employees who live with high risk individuals or catch public transportation to come to work for three hours?
  • Gear & Protocols for Employees and Customers. Have you thought through employee and customer safety? Both gear and protocols need to be established. If you don’t have cleaning supplies or protective gear or processes, take that as a sign that you’re not ready to re-open. Will you be testing employees for COVID prior to asking them to return? Are you stocked with enough safety gear to stand the demand?
  • Training. What kind of training are you offering your employees on protocols and gear?
  • Employee Capacity. Consider the individual context of each employee. For example, do they have kids at home? If coming back to work, do they have child care options or are they choosing between paycheck or taking care of their children? Just because your business might be opening, doesn’t mean day care is as readily available. Every support system for your employees matters.
  • Security. Consider what job or financial security you can offer to front line, non-salaried employees. If you’ve applied for PPP or other protective loans, use them appropriately. Business will come back – risking people’s lives and livelihoods stays on your conscience. 
  • Comply and Stay Up to Date. This is a rapidly evolving situation with new guidelines emerging (e.g. as of April 23, Kemp’s executive order). Stay informed and at a minimum, implement the guidance. Better, add to the guidance with nuances for your particular business. 

Two-Way Street: Sharing with Customers

As you consider re-opening, especially for economic reasons, consider that customers want to feel safe as well. 

  • Share Your Protective Measures. Provide safety for customers through similarly developed gear and protocols. Tell them what to expect in your establishment. 
  • Share Your Customer Expectations. Share what you expect of customers as well. Do you want only people who have been tested for COVID already or who have self-quarantined for 14 days to engage in your establishment? What level of exposure are you willing to accept.
  • Share Protection Given to Employees. Share how you are protecting your employees. This is a deeper way to share how you’re protecting customers. It’s not just about providing wipes for customers, but knowing that behind-the-scenes there are protocols and protections for everyone.
  • Judge and Re-Assess Periodicially. Be ready for the possibility that customers may NOT engage in your business at the level needed to justify re-opening. Re-assess the situation frequently and periodically and make the call as needed.

Long Term Impacts and Impressions

What we choose to do now says a lot about our values and culture. Organizations that genuinely consider community, not just profit, in their decision-making are going to be remembered and respected differently than those that put people at risk unnecessarily. Consider that the choices you make now will have long term consequences on recruiting talent, retaining leaders, and attracting customers in the future. What do those choices say about what your organization values? Is it worth it? Is it right? Does it align with the culture you say you have or want to have?

Voices are not just for the powerful, but for those who don’t feel like they have an option. If businesses and communities that prioritize safety over finances are in the minority, let’s become a vocal majority. Together, we can raise the standard for all.

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*This is a rapidly evolving situation and the latest updates may not be reflected in this article. Please research for the latest and we encourage you to connect with the authors below for the most current help.

This article was a collaborative effort that emerged from a rich conversation at the New Normal Dialogue I host every Wednesday at 12 pm EST. PM if you’d like to be included in the next one!

Crystal Kadakia – CEO at Kadakia Consulting, an organizational consultancy focused on aligning business & people strategy to bring the future of work today. We co-create and lead initiatives with our clients that solve problems by maximizing the best possibilities that exist in your context.

Paula Robinson – CEO at J .PR and Associates. We are helping employers and employees move through this unprecedented pandemic by helping to establish the “best” way to return to work safely and successfully. J .PR and Associates is an International HR Training and Consulting firm dedicated to creating engaging workplaces through People Development, Culture Alignment, and Change Management.  

Timothy Visconti – Founder at PeopleLift, an employee experience consulting firm that solves the three core problems every growing business faces: engaging, retaining, and attracting top talent. PeopleLift is joining the fight for rapid COVID-19 response by supporting organizations delivering critical supplies to the front lines, providing door-to-door transport or critical goods to at risk populations and Empowering the ability for states to scale their testing capabilities.

Tanacha Clinton – A knowledge and business consulting leader, specializing in user, learner, and service experience.