Virus-Resistant Human Resources Management: The UI Conundrum

This series is intended to give general guidance during our current pandemic environment. Scenarios discussed may be dependent upon multiple factors not included in these discussions and nothing contained herein should be considered legal advice.

On April 28, The Wall Street Journal, citing Department of Labor Statistics, reports that “roughly half of all U.S. workers stand to earn more in unemployment benefits than they did at their jobs . . .”.

Anecdotally, some employees are expressing disappointment when they get the call to return to work.

Who’s first? Gallup reports that in the U.S., 35% of the workforce is engaged. There is a correlation between highly engaged employees and performance, so if you’re using objective criteria (documented performance metrics) for deciding who comes back first, you likely will get little resistance from this group that has buy-in to the success of the organization. Employers who have made intentional efforts to create engagement that includes performance management based on objective metrics should have more employees who will be excited about helping restore their business.

What about the remaining 65%?

If your employees are making the equivalent of $15.50/hr or less, getting back to business could have some challenges that you should be talking about in your recovery strategy sessions. If that represents a significant percentage of your workforce, your challenge may grow exponentially.

Team members know if they refuse to come back, they will no longer be eligible for unemployment or any benefits they have with you, but it does not mean they will feel good about it. At a time when you may be feeling that your compassion tank is running low, you may be called on to tap your reserves. You should be unapologetic, but take action that shows you are not insensitive.

1. Resist doing the math with them. We are back to work. Employees who are receiving unemployment benefits should report their status and pay as required and let the unemployment office tell them if and when they no longer qualify.

2. Be fair. Take caution in making emotional decisions that may create internal inequity.

3. Listen. People may return to work advocating for higher wages or other concerns. Employees have the right to discuss work conditions (including pay) without fear of retaliation. The quickest way to have a union knocking at your door is to shut down communications between management and workers.

4. Show appreciation. Celebrate the return (safely). Bling your PPE. Give a prize for the best home-done haircut or those who tried a “Nailed It!” challenge.

5. Resist telling employees they are “lucky” to have a job. Employment is a mutually beneficial arrangement.

I also believe in the short-term, there will be some staffing “churn.” That is, some people may determine during this hiatus that they are ready for a new work challenge elsewhere. Like every other aspect of this pandemic, we will have to see what is next and be ready to pivot.

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