July 01, 2020
Twelve attendees from 10 companies participated on the call. Companies came from various industries, including: retail, consumer, financial/banking, products/apparel/household, manufacturing, technology, telecommunications and defense.
Purpose of Meeting
The Global Institute convened a 60-minute member conversation on health and benefits in China. The content of the call was driven by attendee interests and included the topics listed below.
COVID-19: Returning to the Workplace
Companies were interested in discussing how they’re working to support employees and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teleworking and Employee AccommodationsCompanies were interested in discussing their return-to-workplace strategy for COVID-19. Most companies (75%) indicated that they have taken a slow and conservative approach to having their employees return to worksites. Some employers (13%) are reintegrating employees back to their worksites in a phased approach, while others (13%) are considering having their employees work from home on a permanent basis.
In addition to returning to work, companies shared that their most significant COVID-19- related challenge was supporting telemedicine, virtual solutions and telework options.
Some companies are in different phases of returning to the workplace. For example, one company gives its associates the option to come to the office or work from home, while others have returned to the workplace. Of those companies with employees back in the office, all have instituted processes and procedures to ensure employee safety. One company has implemented temperature checks and stepped up its cleaning protocols throughout the office space.
Another company rolled out robust procedures that employees must undergo when entering the worksite. They include:
- Sanitizing hands and undergoing temperature checks.
- Answering a questionnaire that asks whether they have traveled internationally or have been in close contact with someone who has traveled internationally in the last 14 days. The questionnaire also asks whether employees exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. If an employee answers ”yes” to any of these screening questions, the site’s medical department is notified.
- Wearing safety glasses and a face mask at manufacturing sites.
- Maintaining 6 feet of physical distancing.
In addition to these safety precautions, the entrance doors at this company’s worksites are kept open so that those entering do not need to physically touch door handles. Employees have also been asked to stay home if they feel sick. When in the office, employees are not allowed to sit close to one another in common areas. An elevator policy has also been implemented, where employees are strongly advised not to touch elevator buttons, and the number of people allowed on elevators is limited.
Another company with a relatively small workforce only has its essential employees in the office. These include managers and other senior-level employees. They must undergo temperature checks and are required to wear face masks while in the office. The worksite also has marked entranceways, where employees must enter and exit. Since employee safety is a priority for this employer, the company is working to develop a plan to reconfigure the office so that the space between cubes is at least 6 feet apart. The company is also considering implementing a shift approach for non-essential employees. Under this approach, employees would go into the office every other day. This would encourage social distancing and prevent too many employees from being in the office at the same time. In the meantime, the company has enhanced non-essential employees’ telework experience by providing cameras, allowing them to conduct Zoom conference calls.
Companies indicated that employee engagement is the biggest challenge for well-being programs in China. One company noted that it uses a well-being platform to help keep employees engaged in their health and well-being. Through the platform, employees can connect with clinicians and participate in challenges, which have been extremely helpful in increasing engagement during the pandemic. The company is also trying to identify which activities can be done in person versus virtually, since some locations have returned to the workplace.
To increase well-being program engagement, another company began pushing out more communications about their available well-being and mental health resources. Since this, there has been an uptick in webinar participation, especially on topics related to stress management. Despite these efforts, this company’s EAP utilization remains low. The employer is working to encourage and advertise the EAP, along with other well-being programs, recognizing that there is a fine balance between overcommunicating and making employees aware of resources available. In addition, the company is utilizing global well-being champions to connect with employees and help them stay engaged.
One company also indicated that despite COVID-19, it has not seen any dramatic impacts to their well-being programming budget.
Most companies on the call are taking a strong approach to addressing the mental and emotional health of their employees. This is especially true since the onset of COVID-19. Two companies noted that they do not currently provide mental health coverage for employees, since it is not provided by local insurers. Employers are trying to push their insurers for mental health coverage. However, local insurers have suggested that employers switch to an international plan if they want this type of coverage. One employer noted that switching to an international plan makes it difficult to provide equitable benefit offerings to all employees. This company is working to identify other regional insurers if a local one cannot be found to provide mental health coverage.
Another company is addressing resilience and stress by offering a virtual resiliency assessment. The assessment gives employees customized actions and targets to help them be resilient. One company providing EAP globally indicated that its country worksites have the option to buy into the global EAP program, since it is funded locally. As a result, not all company locations use the global provider.
Employers in China are offering several benefits to their employees. Most companies indicated that their insurer covers COVID-19 testing and treatment. A few companies noted that they have not decided whether they will implement annual medical check-ups this year. One company does not want to encourage employees to go to medical facilities during the pandemic. Therefore, the company is not communicating anything to employees about this until it has made a decision about this issue.
One employer indicated that although it has not added any new benefits to its health plan, the company is exploring the option of offering telemedicine and prescription delivery services to employees. Another company indicated that it has two different health plans for employees. One plan is for local hires from China and another is for foreign nationals. The plan for foreign nationals includes high entitlements, while the plan for local hires is less robust and needs additional coverage. To be more equitable, this company is discussing the possibility of rolling out new top ups that provide more flexibility for employees.
Companies in China are taking varying approaches to leave. For example, one employer rolled out a 10-day COVID-19 leave, which is intended to give employees and managers flexibility as to where and when they work if they or a family member gets sick. Another employer is offering crisis sick leave of up to 15 working days through July 31, in addition to other leaves being offered. Another company has not implemented any formal leave but is allowing employees to work from home if family issues arise. A third company indicated that it typically meets the statutory leave requirements, but because of COVID-19, it is conducting a global re-evaluation of all policies and is considering topping up current leave policies. Additionally, one employer indicated that it is thinking about implementing a global minimum standard for maternity leave.