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COVID-19 Burned Out HR Leaders Everywhere: Here’s How to Help

Many HR professionals would agree that the year 2020 was the most challenging year to date when it comes to managing human capital effectively. The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to adapt in a variety of ways, including restructuring workforces, transforming product offerings and operations, and doing everything possible to keep businesses open while physically distancing employees from one another. These challenges, among many others faced during the ongoing COVID pandemic, has led to burnout among many HR professionals.

We’ll address HR employee burnout in this post. Specifically, we’ll discuss:

  • Identifying the Issue
  • What HR Leaders Can Do to Improve the Situation
  • How Company Leadership Can Better Support their HR Team Moving Forward

Identifying the Issue

As an HR leader, you need to be able to understand burnout in yourself, your HR teammates, and all employees at your company.

HR professionals are often expected to be the most empathetic people in an organization. If someone is having a stress/anxiety or interpersonal related issue, HR will often be their first stop. This can lead to something called compassion fatigue. Showing empathy is a skill, but it’s not an easy one. Even the most empathetic people can feel drained of energy when they are showing compassion to multiple people in a short amount of time. This is one of the primary reasons that so many HR professionals are feeling burnout.

During 2020, HR was asked to make a lot of hard decisions. They were also charged with communicating these decisions to employees. Telling everyone that they need to work from home and isolate themselves from as many people as possible is no easy task. And in worst case scenarios, HR leaders were tasked with implementing large-scale furloughs or layoffs. On top of this, federal regulations became a moving target for HR leaders during COVID. Adapting to FFCRA in the midst of transitioning to remote work or altered operations was a super challenging task. After making these tough decisions, dealing with any pushback from staff, and navigating incredibly complex compliance challenges, it’s no wonder that burnout has become so common for HR employees.

What HR Leaders Can Do to Improve the Situation

As an HR leader experiencing burnout, it may be time to consider burnout best practices that could apply to anyone in your workforce. Think about the advice that you would give to any non-HR employee who might approach you with concerns about feeling burned out. What would you tell them? Take that advice, and apply it to yourself. Here are some things you might consider:

  • Don’t be afraid to take time off. HR employees too often feel like they have to be extra conservative with their vacation days. They feel like they have to set an example of when it is or is not appropriate to take time off. Throw this idea out the window! If you are experiencing burnout and you have PTO available, use it! Even if travelling is unrealistic right now due to COVID, taking a few days off and spending time exercising, doing hobbies, or relaxing with family and friends can go a long way towards quelling burnout.
  • Find a listening ear. It’s very possible that the employees best equipped to listen and show empathy about employee burnout are your HR coworkers. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your burnout with them, reach out to friends you have in the industry. Think about who you worked with at a previous job, who you met at a conference in recent years, or someone you might be connected with on LinkedIn. Join and online community of HR leaders in your local area. You’ll be surprised at just how willing people in your professional network will be to help you by listening to your challenges and providing guidance.
  • Ask for the help you need. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. HR employees don’t need to be examples of perfection. It’s okay to feel down and unmotivated during these troubling times. There is no shame in this. Whatever help you need, get it. A few months or years from now, you’ll thank yourself for doing whatever it took to get yourself back on track using healthy strategies.

How Company Leadership Can Better Support their HR Team Moving Forward

As counter intuitive as this might sound, HR isn’t always equipped to solve every people-related challenge in the workplace. Often the support of company leadership – the CEO, Founder, President, etc. – is needed.

Company leadership should go above and beyond to acknowledge HR accomplishments during this difficult time. Awarding the “employee of the month” title to someone in HR, sending a hand-written thank you note, or even a “shoutout” included in an internal company communication will go a long way towards making your HR team feel recognized for the hard work they have performed over the last year. Could you go as far as gifting your organization’s HR leader a gift certificate to a spa or have lunch delivered to their home form their favorite restaurant? Get creative in showing your HR teammates just how much their effort means to your company during this challenging time.

Also important, company leadership should consider potential gaps in employee benefits. Could your employee assistance program be expanded? What does your company’s mental health coverage lack? Understanding these gaps in benefits and acting on them will go a long way towards ensuring your entire team’s mental and physical health are cared for, and especially your HR staff during this challenging time.

Key Takeaways

Burnout among HR employees is becoming very common in the wake of the challenging year 2020. Compassion fatigue, combined with the weight of having to make and communicate so many challenging decisions, are the primary reasons for this burnout. HR employees can help themselves overcome burnout by doing the following:

  • Don’t be afraid to take time off.
  • Find a listening ear.
  • Get the help you need.

Company leadership should also take the initiative to help their HR team overcome burnout. Two ideal strategies for achieving this are:

  • Going the extra mile to make sure HR is acknowledged and thanked for the challenging work they have been performing over the last year.
  • Ensure that there are no gaps in benefits coverage that are limiting your team’s ability to take care of themselves and their mental health.

Launchways Provides HR Leaders the Support They Need So They Can Focus on Strategic Initiatives

At Launchways, we partner with organizations to help alleviate the administrative and compliance burdens placed on HR professionals. With Launchways’ support, HR leaders have more time to work on strategic initiatives rather than getting bogged down by tactical day-to-day items. Learn more about how Launchways helps HR leaders.

What Employers Need to Know About the Second Round of PPP Loans

On Monday, Jan. 11th, The U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Small Business Administration began accepting applications for the second round of Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans. This second round will continue until Mar. 31st, 2021.

Both new borrowers and certain existing borrowers are eligible for the second round of PPP loans. Now that applications have started, business leaders need to be prepared to follow the new requirements.

Information About the Second Round of PPP Loans

The rules for the second round of PPP Loans are, in many ways, similar to the initial round. That said, there are certain updates to the first round of funding that employers should be aware of. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the key updates include:

  • PPP borrowers can set their PPP loan’s covered period to be any length between eight and 24 weeks to best meet their business needs;
  • PPP loans will cover additional expenses, including operations expenditures, property damage costs, supplier costs, and worker protection expenditures;
  • The program’s eligibility is expanded to include 501(c)(6)s, housing cooperatives, and direct marketing organizations, among other types of organizations;
  • The PPP provides greater flexibility for seasonal employees;
  • Certain existing PPP borrowers can request to modify their First Draw PPP Loan amount; and
  • Certain existing PPP borrowers are now eligible to apply for a Second Draw PPP Loan.

Last year, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) covered six months of payments on loans that existed as of Mar 27th, 2020  in addition to any new loans issued before Sep. 27th, 2020 under the CARES Act. Under the new bill, beginning in February of 2021, these same borrowers will receive an additional three months of payments from the SBA.

Additionally, for existing borrowers as of Dec. 27th, 2020, the new bill provides another five months of payments for industries that were hit the hardest by COVID-19. Other temporary changes include a guaranty increase from 75% to 90% and fee waivers through Sep. 30th.

Am I Eligible for a Second PPP Loan?

A borrower is generally eligible for a Second Draw PPP Loan if the borrower:

  • Previously received a First Draw PPP Loan and will or has used the full amount only for authorized uses;
  • Has no more than 300 employees; and
  • Can demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts for any quarter in 2020 compared to 2019.

Those who are eligible can apply for up to 2.5 times the borrower’s average monthly payroll for 2019 or 2020, with a limit of $2 million. It’s important to note that this maximum is substantially less than the first round of the program which set the limit at $10 million.

Industries that were hit the hardest by COVID-19 (Accommodations, Food Service, etc.) can qualify for loans up to 3.5 times the borrower’s average monthly payroll.

What are the Rules for PPP Loan Forgiveness for Second Draw Loans?

While the application process will likely be easier for most, the forgiveness rules are, for the most part, the same as they were for the first round of PPP loans. Borrowers are eligible to have their loans forgiven in full provided they use the funds for eligible costs within the covered period (8-24 weeks from loan disbursement).

A minimum of 60% of the PPP loan must have been spent on payroll costs in order to qualify for full forgiveness. The rest can be used for business mortgage interest payments, rent, utilities, or other expenses under the new stimulus bill, such as specific operation expenses, supplier costs, and worker protection expenses. 

Please note: in order to receive maximum loan forgiveness, detailed documentation of PPP spending is necessary, including paid checks, payroll documentation, receipts, and billing statements.

What is the Process to Apply for Loan Forgiveness?

The U.S. Small Business Administration has until Jan. 20th, 2021 to develop forms and instructions for a forgiveness application for loans of up to $150,000. Borrowers who qualify will be required to include details about the number of employees retained and the amount spent on payroll in addition to signing and submitting the form.

Borrowers must also attest to the accuracy of the certification and compliance with PPP requirements. Simplified forgiveness applications will not require supporting documentation, however, they must be retained for up to four years for future review by the SBA. The new PPP program launched this week does not change the forgiveness process for loans over $150,000.

What’s Next?

Employers should review the criteria for this second round of PPP loans. Employers considering applying should prepare and have on hand all relevant documentation.

We will continue to monitor any additional developments regarding the PPP and deliver updates as necessary. For more information and support, contact Launchways.

Actionable Strategies Employers Can Use to Keep Employees Connected & Engaged During Remote Work

At the beginning of 2020, working from home was often viewed by employers and workers as a privilege that few were able to take advantage of regularly. By the end of this year, remote work has become an accepted and, at times, a dull reality of life as the COVID-19 pandemic continues on.

While working from home offers employees new benefits such as a more flexible schedule (and often a more comfortable wardrobe), many have reported feeling mentally and socially disconnected from their team or organization. As impromptu discussions in the hallway and the ‘meeting after the meeting’ are no longer available socialization options to employees, these feelings of isolation are understandable and natural side effects of working in virtual silos. However, if these feelings of detachment are left unchecked, they can lead to obstacles in employee productivity and overall happiness, which may ultimately result in major inefficiencies or unwanted employee turnover.

Today I’ll cover:

  • Creating the right environment for remote employees
  • Ideas for strengthening team camaraderie in the virtual environment
  • Fostering an Encouraging Atmosphere

Overcommunicate In Order to Avoid Confusion

Working from home has required employees to be more proactive and intentional when communicating with one another in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. In a remote environment, communication between colleagues is often reduced to written messages via email, text, or chat. Without vocal cues or body language to contextualize the sentiment of your message, recipients can easily misinterpret your meaning or intention, leaving them feeling anxious or frustrated. In order to negate these unnecessary misunderstandings, it is important to be extremely clear about what you’re trying to say.

For example, a short email that reads “Please do this again” may sound like a straightforward message, but its curt nature may be interpreted by the recipient as “The work you submitted was subpar and I am frustrated that you’re not getting this right.” Instead, surround your directive with encouraging language to both build the confidence of the recipient while being specific about what parts of the work need to be redone. This is especially important when a power dynamic is involved, i.e. a conversation between a manager and their employee. A more productive version of your email could read “I thought you did a nice job with this work project. However, XYZ needs to be redone in order to [insert rationale].” By being mindful of your word choice now, employers can avoid addressing unnecessary concerns or fears their employees may be having later on.

Make Meetings More Meaningful & Avoid Meeting Fatigue

While in-person interactions are currently prohibited in the interest of employee health and safety, virtual interactions through streaming video are a great way to foster connection between employees. Many companies have invested in software solutions like Zoom or Microsoft Teams that teammates can access from home to provide a safe alternative to in-person meetings. However, many employees can choose to turn their camera off during meetings. In order to create clearer channels of communication,

consider requiring everyone to turn their cameras on during virtual meetings to increase attentiveness and foster more authentic conversation. Keep in mind that meeting fatigue is a real phenomenon, and remote work can exacerbate this frustration since all meetings are now conducted in the same virtual and physical space. While managers may intend for increased virtual face time to foster a sense of connectedness, too many virtual meetings can ironically work against efforts to increase group affinity, resulting in employees feeling mentally drained and less willing to meaningfully contribute to the group discussion. Try to reduce unnecessary meetings to avoid leaving your employees feeling burnt out.

Dedicate Time for One-on-One Conversations

Finally, there may be questions or concerns that employees don’t feel comfortable sharing in a group setting. As busy managers notoriously have full schedules during the workday, it can be hard for employees to find time to bring their concerns to their manager’s attention, and they may even question whether their topic is important enough to warrant a discussion. It’s important that employees feel heard and valued, especially in a remote setting where messages can easily be misconstrued. Managers can be sure that employees are supported by holding dedicated and recurring virtual office hours where employees are welcome to bring up topics important to them. By proactively making themselves virtually available to employees, managers can forge stronger connections with their direct reports and strengthen team buy-in.

Steps to Strengthen Your Team’s Bond

Making time and virtual space available for socialization is crucial to retaining a strong and connected workforce. In order to maintain trust and a sense of camaraderie among employees, managers have been forced to get creative with group interactions that are outside the scope of work-related tasks and projects.

High-energy and engagement group interactions like virtual trivia sessions, games, and quizzes can enable team members to create deeper ties with one another. Examples of fun and easy games are “two truths and one lie” or home scavenger hunts. For a more relaxed approach, managers can hold virtual happy hours or craft nights on a weekly or monthly recurring basis, where team members can get together to participate in a shared and casual activity. To keep employee morale high, introduce an interesting question that all attendees must answer or ask team leads to acknowledge a specific employee for the good work they have recently done. Note that employers don’t have to facilitate all of these informal meetings either- in fact, managers may find that extending ownership of workplace culture to employees helps to foster a stronger sense of unity (and additional creative ideas).

Finally, it’s important to repeatedly remind your management team and employees that we are living through an unexpected time during which whole organizations have had to make accelerated and major adjustments in order to continue functioning. While some organizational expectations may remain the same, other look very different. For instance, work must still be submitted on time but wearing a sweatshirt to a meeting is now permissible. Emphasize patience and understanding to managers and employees alike, as each individual is dealing with their own unique set of professional and personal challenges in the face of remote work during this global pandemic.

Key Takeaways

Remote work is not without its challenges. However, managers armed with proactive solutions and creative ideas for team building are better situated to foster a strong sense of employee connection in the face of social isolation. Remember:

  • Leverage clear and careful language in emails/texts and use video when possible to contextualize your message and avoid misunderstandings
  • Look for creative ways to foster a sense of unity on your team through virtual interaction without creating meeting fatigue or employee burnout
  • Extend grace to all and make yourself available to employees to increase feelings of trust and validation in employees

Speak with Launchways for more virtual workplace guidance, including resources for employees who are struggling with isolation during COVID.

What Employers Need to Know About the $900 Billion Stimulus Package

The leading news of the week from the political world has been the $900 billion stimulus package that was passed by Congress on Monday, December 21st. After several months of stalemate between the divided house and senate, a COVID-19 relief bill finally won enough votes to be placed on President Trump’s desk for his signature. It is expected that he will eventually sign it into law, although he has demanded revisions be included in some aspects of the bill.

In this post, we’ll talk about the most important aspects of this bill that employers need to be aware of. Specifically, we’ll discuss:

  • Unemployment Benefits Funding and Extension
  • Business Aid
  • Direct Economic Impact Payments
  • Other Important Aspects of the Bill

Unemployment Benefits Funding and Extension

The bill opens the door for unemployed Americans to receive $300 per week in federal aid in addition to any unemployment aid they may be receiving from their state. Unemployment benefit funds in some states have already dried up, but that will not affect an unemployed worker’s access to this federal aid. The bill lays out a timeline to provide this federal unemployment aid from the end of December 2020 through March 14, 2021, although the bill has language indicating it could last longer.

For added context on this aspect of the bill, recall that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed on March 27, 2020, provided funding for states to waive any waiting week requirements for unemployment income throughout the pandemic. The CARES act also provided an additional $600 per week to all individuals receiving unemployment income benefits for weeks of unemployment ending before July 31, 2020. President Trump extended a portion of unemployment wages after the initial $600 per week expired.

The bill that was passed on December 21st includes an extension of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is a program that allows employees who are not traditionally eligible to receive unemployment benefits to do so. Examples include:

  • Self-employed workers
  • Workers in gig industries (Like Uber)
  • Various types of independent consultants
  • Some hourly workers

An 11-week extension in base benefits through this PUA is also included within the bill.

Key Highlight: The new stimulus bill that was passed by Congress on December 21st, 2020, will provide $300/week for unemployed Americans. It also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides unemployment benefits for self-employed or gig workers.

Business Aid

The Small Business Administration (SBA) will receive $325 billion through this bill to assist businesses in the United States that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of this amount, $284 billion will go towards replenishing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable small business loans to eligible applicants.

Business owners will be happy to learn that certain firms that had already applied for, received and exhausted PPP funds will be eligible to apply for another PPP loan. The eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • A small business must have less than 300 employees
  • The business must have sustained at least a 30% loss in revenue during any quarter of 2020
  • Small 501(c)(6) organizations with 150 or fewer employees that are not lobbying organizations would be eligible for a PPP loan with this round of funding

The bill also affects the PPP in the following ways:

  • Supplier and investment costs related to modifying facilities and obtaining personal protective safety equipment are now eligible expenses for loan forgiveness
  • The loan forgiveness process for businesses that have borrowed $150,000 or less in PPP loans has been simplified
  • It has been confirmed that business expenses paid for with PPP funds are tax deductible

It is important to note that businesses interested in applying for a PPP loan should consult with their lender. Money should never be borrowed without consulting an expert first.

There are two other relevant aspects of this new bill that will affect some businesses:

  • The bill directs $15 billion in funding for independent live-venue operators
  • The bill adds another $20 billion for small business grants

Key Highlight: The new stimulus bill replenishes funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Some business owners will be able to apply for a PPP loan for a second time. The bill also expands eligible expenses for loan forgiveness and simplifies some processes.

Direct Economic Impact Payments

The part of this bill that has received the most news coverage is another round of stimulus checks. Eligible Americans received a first round of stimulus checks under the CARES Act last spring. Under the CARES Act, individuals earning up to $75,000/year or married couples (who file jointly) earning up to $150,000 were eligible to receive the full payment of $1,200 per individual or $2,400 per couple. A $500 payment was included for each qualifying child.

The new bill follows the same eligibility requirements as we saw under the CARES Act. However, instead of being eligible for a $1,200 payment, qualifying taxpayers are only eligible for a payment of $600 per individual or $1,200 per married couple. Parents will be eligible to receive $600 for each qualifying child. President Trump is currently demanding congress increase the payment amount provided, although it remains to be seen how this will pan out.

Key Highlight: The new bill, as it stands, will provide stimulus payments of $600 per individual, or $1,200 for married couples filing jointly. Parents will be eligible to receive $600 for each qualifying child. As with the CARES Act earlier in 2020, eligibility requirements apply.

Other Things to Know About the Bill

There are a few other general aspects of this bill that business owners should be aware of.

Other provisions in the bill:

  • U.S. Postal Service—$10 billion
  • Health Care Provider Relief Fund—$35 billion
  • COVID-19 Testing and Tracing and Vaccine Distribution—$69 billion
  • Transportation Industry Relief (Airlines, Airports, Buses, Transit and Amtrak)—$45 billion
  • Education—$82 billion
  • Housing Assistance (Rental)—$25 billion
    • Additionally, the bill extends the federal moratorium on evictions until the end of January 2021

What’s not included in the bill:

  • There is no direct aid provided to state, local, or tribal governments
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was not explicitly extended by this bill
    • This means that employers are no longer required to provide federal FFCRA leave later than December 31, 2020
    • Keep in mind that some states have passed their own FFCRA-like legislation

Key Highlight: Several industries will receive significant federal funding under the new bill. The bill includes no direct aid to local governments. Also, the FFCRA is not extended by this new bill.

Key Takeaways

The new $900 billion stimulus package will not be official until it is signed by President Trump. Trump has criticized certain aspects of the bill, and it currently demanding some updates. It’s expected he will eventually sign it into law. The most important things for employers to know about the bill are as follows:

  • The new stimulus bill will provide $300/week for unemployed Americans. It also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides unemployment benefits for self-employed or gig workers.
  • The new stimulus bill replenishes funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Some business owners will be able to apply for a PPP loan for a second time. The bill also expands eligible expenses for loan forgiveness and simplifies some processes.
  • As it stands, the new bill will provide stimulus payments of $600 per individual, or $1,200 for married couples filing jointly. Parents will be eligible to receive $600 for each qualifying child. As with the CARES Act earlier in 2020, eligibility requirements apply.
  • Several industries will receive significant federal funding under the new bill. The bill includes no direct aid to local governments. Also, the FFCRA is not extended by this new bill.

The Top HR Issues of 2021 Employers Must be Prepared For

The year 2020 presented many unprecedented challenges for businesses of all sizes and industries. The COVID-19 pandemic forced most employers to significantly alter their operations. Some of these changes might revert back once the pandemic is over, but other changes will surely have a permanent impact.

Many employers are now wondering what the year 2021 will have in store, especially from an HR perspective.

To help, we’ve written this post to address the top HR issues that employers should be aware of heading into 2021. Specifically, we’ll cover:

  • Company Culture in the Era of Remote Work
  • What the Biden Administration will Mean for HR
  • Remote Worker Compliance
  • Recruiting and Hiring With Location Barriers Removed
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • General HR Compliance
  • New COVID-19 Legislation
  • Disaster Preparedness
  • Cross Training Employees

Company Culture in the Era of Remote Work

When employees could gather regularly in a conference room or break area, it was much easier for employers to establish and monitor company culture. Positive in-person interaction among staff has always been a key ingredient for a successful company culture. Unfortunately, remote work has thrown a wrench into any traditional methods of achieving this positive dynamic.

In 2021, work closely with your employees to generate ideas for improving company culture. Because every company is different, every culture strategy must be unique. A key piece of advice we’ll offer in this post is to remember that not every virtual meeting has to be focused on work-related topics. Reserve time in virtual meetings for regular socializing and “catching up” with teammates on a personal level. This type of unstructured social interaction can somewhat replicate the repour-building that typically would happen in the breakroom.

What the Biden Administration will Mean for HR

The incoming presidential administration and its new policies will inevitably impact the world of HR. Here is a brief summary of some of Biden’s stances that you should be aware of as an employer:

  • Biden supports a $15 per hour federal minimum wage.
  • Biden supports decriminalization of cannabis related criminal offenses.
  • Biden supports the enhancement of laws related to employee and consumer data privacy.
  • Biden supports legislation to further protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination.
  • Biden plans to build on the ACA and lower the Medicare eligibility age.
  • Biden supports expanding paid leave for employees.
  • Biden supports reinstating DACA and reversing some of Trump’s strict immigration policies.

Remote Worker Compliance

We’ll touch on this more in the following section, but another consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there are now fewer location barriers for employees. In 2019, most employees were still working in a traditional office setting and had to live within commuting distance of the office simply for logistical reasons.

Now, however, the new norm is that employees can be based out of anywhere in the country (or world!) as long as they are capable of completing their work remotely. Although there are obvious benefits to this, it also means that employers must comply with more HR regulations. An employer with employees in 10 different states must learn to comply with local HR regulations in all 10 states, in addition to all federal regulations (which are constantly changing due to COVID). Multi-state compliance becomes extremely complex, and we recommend working with a compliance partner that can ensure your business has every aspect covered.

Recruiting and Hiring With Location Barriers Removed

As discussed in the previous section, COVID-19 has removed location barriers for employees. This opens up the door to recruit top talent from all over the country. As exciting as this can be, keep in mind that selling your company culture and the benefits you provide can be much more challenging for an employee who knows he or she will be working remotely. If you haven’t already, schedule a meeting with your recruiting team to discuss strategy for attracting the best remote employees in your industry.

Diversity and Inclusion

Don’t set aside your diversity and inclusion goals during the remainder of the pandemic. In fact, D&I efforts are more important now than ever before. With constantly changing compliance regulations, vast overhauls to FMLA processes, and the strain of managing a remote workforce, it can be easy to lose focus on D&I efforts. However, in order to keep your company culture strong and retain smooth HR operations, executing on your existing D&I strategy, or building a new strategy, should remain top of mind. Please access Launchways’ Complete D&I Toolkit for more resources on this topic.

General HR Compliance

In addition to managing compliance updates and handling changes with FMLA processes, it’s critical to keep standard HR compliance operations up-to-date as well. Regularly updating your employee handbook, conducting harassment training, and educating employees about their benefits options are some of the best strategies to protect your company from the uncertain HR world that we’ll face in 2021.

New COVID-19 Legislation

The two main federal legislative actions that occurred at the dawn of the pandemic in March of 2020 were the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Although there has been much debate about passing further federal legislation to expand on these acts, it’s still uncertain how (or if) these pieces of legislation will be updated.

Ensure sure your HR team is checking the status of any proposed legislation daily. If and when a relief package is passed, work with a compliance partner to ensure your business understands it fully and react accordingly.

Disaster Preparedness

Many of us suspect that the COVID-19 pandemic will be the worst disaster faced by our generation. At the same time, it has likely been a wakeup call for employers to establish clear disaster protocols. If you haven’t already, be sure to have plans in place to take care of your employees in the event of any of the following:

  • Earthquakes
  • Flooding
  • Wildfires
  • Severe Weather Events
  • Rioting/Looting

If you already have disaster plans in place, be sure to review them regularly to ensure that no updates are needed. Please reference Launchways’ Essential Guide to Emergency Preparedness Plans for Businesses for more resources on this topic.

Cross Training Employees

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) has opened up the door for employees to lawfully take leave when affected by the pandemic. This has led to increased absences for many employees in across industries. Businesses with cross-trained employees who can step in to carry some slack while their coworkers are absent can continue operations seamlessly and reduce revenue losses

Consider working with your company’s leadership, including those who supervise front-line staff, to make a plan for cross-training employees so that your company isn’t hit as hard by having staff away from work unexpectedly.

Key Takeaways

There are certainly many different areas of HR that will be impacted by COVID-19, the incoming presidential administration, and federal legislation during the year 2021. Your company can be better prepared for these impacts by doing the following:

  • Focusing on improving company culture in the era of remote work
  • Continuing your focus on diversity and inclusion goals
  • Remembering to implement HR best practices (employee handbooks, harassment training, etc.)
  • Monitoring the status of potential COVID-19 legislation
  • Ensuring disaster preparedness plans are up-to-date
  • Making cross training employees a priority

COVID Has Created a Crisis for Women in the Workforce: Here’s What Employers Can Do to Support Women Leaders

This year’s McKinsey and LeanIn.org’s annual Women in the Workplace study reports that 25% of women in the workforce are considering changing their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. Rachel Thomas, CEO of LeanIn.org in Palo Alto, California stated, “This translates to millions of women leaving the workforce…It could wipe out all the hard-earned progress we’ve seen for women in leadership.”

In another study, conducted by the National Women’s Law Center, shows that 865,000 women left the workforce back in September 2020 when their children went back to school or began remote schooling from home. However, mothers with children in school are not the only group of women who are facing this struggle. The Women in the Workplace study also reveals that black women, due to concern for their health and safety,  are more likely than other employees to consider leaving the workforce.

That said, according to Thomas, “women are less likely to share their concerns about work/life balance or talk about being parents at all with their managers because they’re worried it will derail their careers.” She continues, “Even before the pandemic, women were acutely aware of the ‘motherhood penalty,’ which assumes working mothers are less productive than working fathers and puts them at a disadvantage in terms of pay, promotions, and work experiences.” The concern for black women is highlighted by Shannon Schuyler, Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, when she says “This reluctance to speak up is especially pronounced for Black women who are concerned about being stereotyped as angry.”

Manager Involvement is Key

Keeping employees in the workforce is a responsibility that often times falls to their managers. Erica Salmon Byrne, chair of the Denver-based network of 300 companies, Ethisphere Institute’s Business Ethics Leadership Alliance, says, “The manager is the linchpin of a fair and equitable workplace – they really set the tone…In all of our data, the vast majority of employees (67%) who have a concern – if they raised it – they raised it with their manager.”

“This is especially true during the pandemic because the solutions human resources offers don’t always work for every employee, Schuyler said. For instance, during the pandemic, employees at PricewaterhouseCoopers who are struggling have the option of taking extra time off, going on a sabbatical, or working a reduced schedule, but those solutions aren’t the answer for every employee.” Schuler continues to share the effects this has on black women in particular, “Black women are often the breadwinners of their families, so to say, ‘Your option is to go on a sabbatical or go to 60% time with 60%  pay’ doesn’t fill the gap and doesn’t help.”

She adds, “Managers are in the best position to have meaningful conversations with their employees about what solutions would work and then go back to senior leadership and say: ‘This policy is great, but what I’m really hearing is people need to have something different.’ Managers are also in the best position to understand how to implement HR policies to meet the needs of individual employees.”

Discussing Challenges with Employees

In an attempt to facilitate these important conversations, PricewaterhouseCoopers and other companies are offering managers talking points to create a dialogue with their employees – asking them about their situations, the issues they face, and how they – as managers – can support them. “For example, a manager can say ‘Help me to understand what I can help you with, and I’ll make sure this doesn’t derail your career,’” suggests Schuyler. 

Christy Kenny, Director of HR Client Relations and Talent Management at Public Service Enterprise Group, a publicly-traded energy company in Newark, N.J. says, “Often general questions such as, ‘How are you doing?’ don’t get at the heart of the problem…But if you ask an employee what’s working and what’s not working in terms of their schedule, you start to get at the answer.”

Public Service Enterprise Group suggests that their managers ask employees more direct questions:

  • Are you getting the support you need from your peers? Is there anything we can be doing differently as a team?
  • Are you encountering new barriers in your work? What can we do to ensure your success?
  • How is your work schedule going? Is there anything you need to adjust so that the schedule is sustainable going forward?
  • What gets in the way of doing your job?
  • What is the most frustrating barrier?
  • How can I help remove barriers?
  • What resources do you need to make things easier for you to do your work?

Accommodating Your Employees

Asking the kinds of questions listed above had a big impact on Public Service Enterprise Group. Kenny says, “From these conversations between managers and employees, Public Service Enterprise Group decided to expand its definition of flexible work hours.” She continues, “In the past, flexible work hours meant starting just an hour early or an hour late, but now it’s about customizing the workday to meet the specific circumstances of each employee…For instance, a flexible workday might mean allowing an employee to start work at 6 a.m. so she isn’t working while her children are doing remote learning.”

Additional solutions that managers might consider could include allowing the first few hours of each day to be “meeting-free” for working parents so they can dedicate that time to preparation or providing a specific time frame where they are not expected to be in any virtual meetings.  Michael Matthews, Chief Diversity, Inclusion, and Corporate Responsibility Officer at Synchrony, a consumer financial services company in Stamford, Connecticut says, “It’s incumbent on managers to create and foster environments where employees can come to work as their authentic selves.” He adds, “Does a single mom have to explain away some of her challenges or, as a manager, do you partner with employees to look for solutions? Are you more understanding about interruptions, start and end times, and are you looking for ways to accommodate their needs?”