With high unemployment in the United States and many organizations instituting furloughs, job shares, and hiring freezes to cut costs, it’s difficult to imagine a time when most companies might be hiring again—or to map out long-term business plans at all.
Regardless of how much foresight you don’t have, there is one thing that remains true: How you respond to coronavirus now and over the coming months will impact your company’s reputation, which, according to InHerSight’s data, will affect your ability to recruit female talent once COVID-19 is over.
In June 2020, we asked women whether they’ll evaluate potential employers on their response to coronavirus. A resounding 69 percent say yes, citing safety measures put in place after reopening as the number-one reason they might choose, or not choose, to work at a company. At 34 percent, safety beat out paid sick leave, if and when companies closed or reopened their offices, and percentage of furloughs.
It’s worth noting here that continuing to hire and support women and people of color throughout the pandemic is a savvy business decision, as backed up by research from McKinsey & Company. In previous crises, the organization wrote in their quarterly report, companies have deprioritized inclusion and diversity, but to their detriment in the long run. McKinsey argues that companies pulling back on I&D “could not only face a backlash from customers and talent now but also, down the line, fail to better position themselves for growth and renewal.”
Some of the qualities that characterize diverse and inclusive companies—notably innovation and resilience—will be much in need as companies recover from the crisis.”
Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), says, despite the InHerSight finding, positioning your company now to attract female talent post-COVID doesn’t mean you should issue a press release lauding temperature checks and company-provided masks. Instead, she says, focus internally, and let your reputation with your employees do the recruiting work for you.
“Reputation is a result of how you treat your current employees, so focus on initiatives to support them,” McCorkindale says. “Employees want to be treated fairly and feel safe at work regardless of whether there’s a pandemic. Take care of your employees first, and the recruiting will follow.”
The safety measures employees want
How do you make your current team feel safe continuing to work during the coronavirus pandemic? McCorkindale has an answer for that, too.
Her team at IPR paired with The Harris Poll to survey more than 800 full-time employees about how they feel about returning to work and what safety measures they want their employers to put into place before they do so. The study’s takeaways provide a jumping off point for companies creating appealing return-to-office plans or deciding whether to continue working from home:
1. The continued ability to work from home
Eighty-three percent of respondents to the IPR survey say if their work can continue to be done remotely, then employers shouldn’t require employees to come into the office until the pandemic is over. A similar number, 81 percent, say they should be allowed to work from home until they feel comfortable returning.
2. Social distancing in the office
For those returning to the office, employees say there need to be significant changes: 80 percent say there should be sectioned-off offices and a phase-out of open-space offices, and 78 percent say employers should stagger employees’ return to the office.
3. Company-provided protections
Most employees expect employers to supply protections if they need to come into the office. The number-one need before reopening was hand sanitizer, at 74 percent, but employees are split 50/50 over the need to provide personal protective equipment, physical barriers, and temperature checks.
4. Protections if COVID-19 is contracted at work
Seventy-two percent of employees and 67 percent think employers should provide paid sick leave and pay for testing, respectively, if they contract coronavirus at work.
Figuring out which measures are right for your team will take some legwork. Anonymously survey your own employees, and ask for honest feedback during 1:1s. Don’t assume you know what’s best. Then, once you have measures in place, communicate them effectively. “Internal communication has been the number-one priority for companies,” McCorkindale says, adding that organizations should take into consideration technology and language barriers that keep measures from being understood.
This should all happen before employees set foot in the office again, as 87 percent of respondents in the IPR survey say they want clear guidelines outlining safety precautions before they return to work.
Protecting your reputation
Even if you take precautions and communicate effectively, something could go awry. This is a pandemic, after all. McCorkindale says, if there’s an outbreak at work and companies receive negative press or reviews, they need to be honest with themselves and, again, focus on their current employees. Being transparent about what went wrong and taking clear steps to address the problem can help brand reputations recover.
“When companies receive negative criticism for something, they can always correct it if it isn’t true,” McCorkindale says. “Otherwise, that’s what the press is there for. There’s a breakdown for a reason.”
Own up to mistakes. Survey your team for more feedback. Listen and take action. You’ll regain the trust of your employees, and months down the line, your recruiters will thank you.
About our source
Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., is the president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, a nonprofit research foundation that creates, curates and promotes research and initiatives in the public relations industry. She taught as a professor for 15 years and has more than 10 years of experience working in corporate communication and analytics.
Survey of approximately 1,900 women in June 2020.
InHerSight is a company ratings platform for women with ratings and reviews of more than 120K companies in the United States.