Our panel of experts discusses how organizations promote the health, safety, and well-being of their employees as staff members return to in-person workspaces.
Vice President and General Manager, Facilities & Government, Ecolab
What advice would you give to employers thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?
First, you need to understand what your employees care about, as well as your areas of risk. Poll employees to understand their concerns and perform a risk assessment to determine what mitigations you will take and how they will be communicated. Be prepared to respond as risk levels and local public health guidance change.
Next, develop written guidance to help managers navigate issues like confirmed cases, contact tracing, and cleaning protocols. This shows that you understand the risks and have a plan if questions arise.
Finally, use the information collected to develop a clear communication plan. Employees will have questions and want to know what is being done to help ensure a safer and healthier working environment. Be clear and concise, and use relevant data to help employees understand the “why” behind policies and protocols. Also use proper signage where appropriate to reinforce key messages and protective actions.
How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve over the past year?
Over the past year, developments like the availability of vaccines, new information on the SARS CoV-2 virus from the CDC, and new variants have led to even more changes to health and safety initiatives. Companies have had to be agile and adjust accordingly to update or implement safeguards, such as masking and vaccine policies.
While many things have changed in the past year, employees’ heightened awareness around health, cleanliness, and the spread of viruses (beyond just COVID-19) has remained, as has the need to conduct cleaning not only for appearance, but for health.
People continue to want to see cleaning and know what procedures are being followed. Over the past year, many companies found their initial response to this was not sustainable or science-based, and have evolved to find greater balance in their cleaning programs to help ensure they are both effective and efficient longer-term.
What immediate steps should employers take to prepare their offices and buildings for a safer return to work?
I would suggest a complete review of risk-mitigation strategies with a focus on personnel guidance, air handling, water management, and hygiene.
Draft communications with clear guidance on vaccination, mask, and meeting protocols, taking risk assessment, and employee concerns into account.
Review your air handling procedures following ASHRAE and CDC guidance, and work with your HVAC partner to determine how you can mitigate risks.
Reach out to your water management partner to ensure you have a water management plan, and that best practices are followed regarding water safety and Legionella management to help reduce risks associated with reduced water use in buildings that have been closed or operating with reduced occupancy.
Use a multi-purpose disinfectant that is effective against SARS CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), as well as other contagious viruses, such as influenza and norovirus. Focus disinfection on high-touch surfaces and high-traffic areas for greatest impact.
Ensure hand sanitizer is easily accessible in transitional and high-traffic areas, and that sinks are stocked with hand soap. Post signage to encourage proper hand hygiene practices.
Create a task force made up of stakeholders from varying roles to review guidance, protocols, standards of practice, and regulations on a frequent basis to help reinforce a positive public health culture, and demonstrate to employees that their concerns are being heard and addressed.
Founder, Thrive Global
Why is company culture so important for employee well-being?
It’s important because we now know an enormous amount about how stress and burnout affect us, both at home and at work. The science is clear that when we prioritize our well-being, we’re more creative, productive, and resilient, and we make better decisions. Well-being isn’t just a perk, it’s a competitive advantage. And there’s a direct connection between the health of a company’s bottom line and the health and well-being of every company’s most important resource — its people.
So in the same way well-being boosts our immune system, culture serves as a company’s immune system, giving it the resilience to meet inevitable challenges.
What made you realize your workplace burnout was beyond the point of comfort? What steps did you take to reduce your stressors?
My turning point came in 2007 when I collapsed from exhaustion and broke my cheekbone. I had bought into the idea that burnout was just the price we have to pay for success. But I came to realize that that’s just a collective myth.
So I learned everything I could about the connection between well-being and productivity. And I made a lot of changes to my life based on what I found out. I started getting more sleep. I started meditating again. And I became much more deliberate about building in time to recharge.
How have you found success in your own workplace wellness initiatives?
In my own life, I’m more productive, more energized, and more present. And with Thrive Global, I very deliberately wanted to model the idea of a sustainable startup, proving that burnout isn’t necessary for success, even for a startup. We’re living out our principles and showing that not only can we have exponential growth and prioritize employee well-being, but that well-being, unplugging, and recharging are actually key to exponential growth.