As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc around the globe, one of the top concerns is what constitutes an essential worker or business. Those are critical specifics to iron out, and national and regional leaders have weighed in to clarify. Most say necessary work can continue, as long as employers take precautions to keep people safe.
The trouble is that many workers insist their employers are not doing enough. They’ve responded by walking off the job, striking, and taking other forms of collective action to show their disagreement with a workplace’s handling of the matter. Human Resources (HR) professionals should remain aware of these four things regarding COVID-19’s impact on worker attitudes and their job circumstances.
1. It Leaves Multiple Industries Simultaneously Vulnerable
Previous strikes and other forms of workplace disruptions often only affected a single sector or company at once. In that case, the situation is often easier to control, especially when bargaining with workers. However, people all over the world from numerous industries are making their voices heard as COVID-19 continues.
In Zimbabwe, healthcare employees refused to work over a lack of protective equipment. Then, workers from more than two dozen Californian fast-food establishments planned a strike in early April. They demanded appropriate supplies to stay safe, plus hazard pay. Transit workers have also considered implementing shutdowns, especially after colleagues became ill.
These examples show that no industry or company should believe collective action will not affect it. HR professionals should do what they can to reduce the likelihood of dealing with disgruntled workers by being transparent and listening carefully to concerns.
2. It Puts HR Leaders in the Spotlight
Another aspect of the COVID-19 crisis concerning collective action is that it puts HR professionals in public-facing positions more often. Instead of a company’s CEO or another top executive commenting to the media, an HR manager might be the one who clarifies what changes a company made to make workers more agreeable.
Even if HR managers don’t make public comments, they’re likely the professionals tasked with leading a company out of a collective action crisis. That means there is more pressure on them from internal team members to do what’s right and keep their cool.
Many already use analytics tools to measure how people feel about their work. Those solutions can enable an HR specialist to intervene and address the matter before workers get so fed up that they leave. They gained relevancy before the COVID-19 pandemic but are especially applicable now.
3. It Could Put HR Representatives at a Higher Risk for Scams
Healthcare fraud takes many forms, including billing customers for defective testing kits and supplies. There was always a possibility of getting scammed in that way, but it’s exceptionally high now. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a consumer warning about fraudulent COVID-19 products. The federal body mentioned that it issued several warning letters to companies regarding their false product claims. It also reminds people there are not yet any approved cures or treatments for the coronavirus.
Scammers prey on desperation, so you must vigilantly watch out for misleading offers. For example, if your workers threaten to strike because they don’t have hand sanitizer, you might look for new ways to get some quickly. However, be cautious when ordering from a company you have not dealt with before, even if most characteristics of the website seem legitimate.
One recent instance in the United Kingdom concerned scammers stealing the name of a business that was a legitimate operation but never had an online presence. The perpetrators then set up a domain bearing the enterprise’s brand and used it to entice people into buying essentials like masks and hand sanitizer.
The people behind the website claimed to have stock ready to ship, but an investigation revealed the business address was a construction site rather than a functioning company. This example gives a strong reminder to do your research before making a purchase. You may be under pressure to avoid collective action, but don’t let the urgency of the matter make you an easy target for cybercriminals.
4. It Makes Workplace Action More Likely to Occur Virtually
Amazon has seen several protests throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and more are reportedly in the works. Additionally, not all of them happened in physical spaces. Activists know that showing up to take a stand tends to work well by boosting public visibility, making more people sympathetic to the cause. In the COVID-19 era, however, social distancing means massive gatherings can’t safely happen as they did not long ago.
In an attempt to discourage online protests, Amazon deleted digital calendar invitations. Nevertheless, nearly 400 individuals took part in the event to share their stories and discuss how to urge the e-commerce giant to make positive changes. Getting rid of events on employees’ online calendars is arguably not the ideal approach to take. Some of the virtual protest attendees brought up that example when explaining which of the brand’s policies caused them the most concern.
HR professionals should remain aware that people may schedule online-based action more readily than traditional collective action now, especially due to more individuals staying at home and social media giving participants a larger platform. However, whether they suspect or know about protests happening online or in the real world, an ideal option is to attempt to communicate with workers before their events happen.
Show Your Workers You Hear Them and Care
People generally take collective action when they feel that those in power are not listening and will not do anything to change a situation for the better. As you continue to navigate the HR landscape during COVID-19, remember that taking grievances into account and doing what you can to improve the circumstances could stop workers from getting upset. Even if you can’t meet demands immediately, demonstrate that you’re interested in hearing your employees’ views.
Kayla Matthews, a technology journalist and human resources writer, has written for TalentCulture, The Muse, HR Technologist, Inc.com, and more. For more by Matthews, follow @KaylaEMatthews on Twitter or visit her blog, Productivity Bytes.