August 25, 2020
In this hourlong benchmarking call, attendees from member companies discussed COVID-19 response, mental health, medical benefits and well-being.
Attendees were polled on their return-to-workplace strategy:
50% categorized a slow and steady return to work, while the other 50% indicated that their company is considering shifting some roles to “permanent” telework.
To help inform its return-to-workplace strategy, one company is surveying its workforce to see if the employees prefer to return to the workplace or remain remote indefinitely. At the time of the call, the company was awaiting results of the employee survey. However, the company does not expect employees back in the office until 2021. In comparison, for Brazil operations, one company is considering bringing 20%-25% of its workforce back to the office in October. However, returning to the workplace will be voluntary and pending the local status of the pandemic at that time.
For those who do return to the workplace, employers shared their safety and risk mitigation strategies. These included temperature checks and an emphasis on personal protective equipment (PPE), especially for field employees. The Environment Health and Safety (EHS) team has been integral in these efforts. One company does a virtual assessment on whether employees can return to the workplace that the country leaders then sign off on. This company emphasized how trust is really important. No company on the call was facilitating testing as part of the return-to-workplace strategy except for very specific situations that would require it, such as a hospital setting. In a situation such as a hospital, where testing was mandated in order for employees to return on-site, it had been initially harder to access private testing; only the government test was available. However, now companies say it is easier to obtain private testing. Otherwise, most companies indicated that their medical plan covers COVID-19 testing if the individual has symptoms.
One company has developed guidance to support remote working such as how to have effective meetings, conduct regular check-ins and implement specific well-being strategies while the workforce is remote. If managers are not able to be more flexible about routines and calendars, they are trained in ways to support changes during a pandemic.
One company is allowing employees to work from other locations and cities while they work remotely (for example, returning to their home city). However, this company is not changing health insurance programs to accommodate a change in location. To make sure that employees are aware of this policy, the company is including a disclaimer that health insurance will not be changed to accommodate switches in remote working locations. In the future (for 2021), this company is considering more options for health insurance if an employee decides to live in different city (i.e., a zone farther away than Bogotá). The company needs to review more providers, as quality of service is not the same in all areas even though plan is a national one.
When polled on their company’s biggest COVID-19 challenge, 75% indicated mental health and 25%, virtual solutions such as telemedicine. The main benefit employers rely on for mental health is their employee assistance programs (EAP). One company had high utilization of its EAP by offering webinars, training and support for managers and employees. The company’s EAP has a high net promoter score (NPS), an evaluation of whether a customer would recommend a service and their reasoning why. Another company has not seen a change in EAP utilization in any Latin American (LATAM) countries. This company finds utilization in Colombia to be lower than that of its other countries. However, it is still higher than market benchmark. In an effort to increase utilization, the company is conducting campaigns to increase awareness of the resource, especially in these unprecedented times. It has created manager guidance to help identify if there is an EAP need from a team perspective, as well as ways to better manage team dynamics, workload and expectations.
For one company that has employees in a hospital environment, there are unique stressors impacting mental health. The employer has communicated how to utilize PPE while in a health care setting. It is hoping that this consistent messaging will help manage employees’ stress during this unprecedented situation.
Companies discussed their medical benefits and the impacts the pandemic has had on those benefits. Testing in Colombia is $100 and is covered by the health plan if someone has symptoms. Health insurance will not cover transporting an ICU patient to another city if an ICU is unavailable in the current location. Transport is only available in very severe health situations requiring an ambulance plane. Access to COVID-19 care is only available to people in the vicinity in which they live. One employer is self-insured in Colombia and is in the middle of an RFP to change to fully insured. It has one person doing all evaluations for reimbursements. The employer has hesitations about making the conversion due to an impact on elective screening coverage. A second employer is fully insured for medical and is trying to decide whether to change the cost share from 80% employer/20% employee to 100% employer (similar to its life insurance benefit). It is looking at market practice for guidance.
The two challenges employers discussed about well-being were engagement and mental health. With everyone remote, the issues of isolation and stress of work/life needs, as well as the anxiety from the pandemic, has made mental health the most impactful pillar of well-being.
Attendees described several approaches for addressing well-being issues:
- Engagement: One employer shared even though it has a well-being portal with tools and resources that employees can access. Despite availability of a portal, employees were asking the HR operations team for help instead of accessing the online resource. The company sees this as a reinforcement of the need to educate employees on the plethora of resources available to them in order to improve engagement.
- Work/ life balance: Another employer has focused its communications on how to balance work and family with everyone home.
- Telework reimbursements: Only one employer on the call indicated that it provided employees with a lump sum amount to use for home office setup as well as offering internet reimbursement.
With the COVID-19 pandemic circumstances evolving, employers are focusing on safety, engagement, mental health and medical coverage. Employers reiterated the importance of communicating about existing resources that employees can access to facilitate health and safety in these unprecedented times.