Hiring and Retention During COVID: Your Questions Answered

How have hiring practices changed during social distancing?


Employers have had to get creative with both the interview and talent acquisition processes.


When hiring or returning employees to work, businesses are rethinking what skills are critical to their organization; how to make do with a smaller staff, or how to keep everyone on the payroll by having them split shifts or job share.


Many companies are recognizing the need to cross-train employees so that they can perform multiple duties. Employees are generally responding positively to being given the opportunity to learn more skills; additionally, employees are better equipped to help one another when there may be a skeletal staff. This can create a stronger sense of teamwork.


The interview process is mostly being done virtually. An employer may start with a preliminary phone or email interview with a set of job-related questions, thoughtfully created in advance by the leadership team.


Once the pool of candidates has been narrowed, some businesses are hosting virtual lunches/coffees where they drop off or have lunch delivered to an applicant’s home before the interview. We are also seeing drive-by document processing once a candidate is selected, where HR can collect signatures, check identification, and deliver items such as laptops.


What policies and procedures have had to change for businesses?


Over the past six months, there have been a dizzying number of new COVID-related Federal, State, and Parish guidelines, mandates, and laws directed at customer and employee protections and protocols, such as family and sick leave and workplace safety and health. Best practice is for businesses to keep current on how these laws and guidelines apply to their industry and incorporate them as written standard operating procedures.


Changes or updates of workplace policies have included reconfiguring the workplace itself to ensure the workspace accommodates distancing and signage (such as requiring hand washing and masks). Managers must make decisions on which employees need to be physically present at the job site and which may work remotely. These decisions are based on the requirements of the job and/or personal circumstances, such as need for family leave/sick leave, PTO and vacation time requests, and workplace accommodation requests.


Businesses have been challenged to be very circumspect about how they are making rehiring and hiring decisions so as not to violate any current or new employment law, as the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and other Federal agencies are scrutinizing these workplace decisions and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.


Is remote work here to stay?


In a word….yes!


Although there may be some reluctance about employees not being physically in the office, many companies are finding that working from home allows flexibility for their employees, who are faced with having to work unconventional hours due to child care or care for elderly parents. Companies are finding this is a compassionate alternative while still trying to navigate its novelty.


Adhering to a strict policy requiring everyone to be in the office may cause a business to lose a long-term, valuable employee. However, making the decision to allow one employee to work from home, but not another, may cause some conflict or resistance by employees.


We recommend that a business consult with a Human Resources expert when making these or other difficult employment decisions. As long as a business is making decisions consistently, in good faith and based on the employee’s job and personal circumstances, they should be okay.


How does a company help remote employees avoid burnout and stay connected to the company/fellow employees?


Employee burnout is of particular concern to HR professionals, especially during the pandemic when one day seems to blur into the next. The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.” Employers need to find creative ways to help employees navigate these very valid feelings.


Offering flexibility during the workday, permitting generous use of PTO, and making adjustments in scheduling work hours are some ways to help employees take needed brakes for self-care. Employers need to think outside the box when it comes to expectations of “normal” work hours if it will help employees deal with childcare and self-care needs.


Employers can encourage balance and grounding activities (exercise, meditation, etc.) by offering virtual counseling or webinars addressing coping mechanisms.


Addressing the ergonomics of work-from-home arrangements can also be beneficial. Some companies are investing in home office furniture and ergonomic workstations so that employees can be more physically comfortable (which also reduces the chances of repetitive stress injuries, etc. that could increase worker’s compensation and health insurance claims).


Staying connected to the company and fellow employees while working remotely is also a challenge. Employees can feel disconnected if they are working at home and not otherwise connected to their co-workers. There are many ways to engage virtually and to do so periodically is the best route, so that employees working remotely feel a part of the organization and invested. Weekly zoom meetings are strongly recommended so that employees can not only share work-related progress, but to talk about how they are doing personally and reconnect with one another.

As far as monitoring performance, which is admittedly a concern, it is best practice to outline those expectations clearly with employees and check in with them often. Make sure they know that they have a front-line supervisor or in-house manager with whom they can talk. Effective and frequent communication is integral to the employee’s success.