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WISH for essential workplaces

Providing support to your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are considered essential workers need protection, accurate information, and a safe and supportive work environment that minimizes risk of exposure. Workers and their managers in a range of essential businessesincluding grocery stores, delivery services, warehouses, distribution centers, and construction, as well as healthcareare facing unprecedented workplace challenges to their safety, health, and well-being. Managers may need specific guidance to create supportive and safe work environments.

The Center for Work, Health, & Well-being’s Workplace Integrated Safety & Health (WISH) Assessment provides an approach for managers to organize their actions and activities using six key characteristics, as described below. Some strategies and practical solutions are included in each section; a more complete list can be found on our WISH for essential workplaces: Strategies and resources page.   

Focus on working conditions

Our approach starts with a focus on working conditions, which,taken together, can address three primary issues in the COVID-19 crisis. First, working conditions are central to effective infection control. Grounded in workplace safety and health, eliminating or reducing physical hazards provides the first line of defense for reducing exposure to potential hazards on the job. This may include increased ventilation of fresh air to improve indoor air quality, or administrative controls that allow social distancing to occur within the workplace. Ensuring that workers have adequate breaks for regular handwashing is also a pivotal infection control strategy. Second, providing supportive sick leave policies and additional pay allows those who are sick to stay home with financial security, while protecting the health of other workers. Paid sick leave is important to ensuring that workers have the financial support to stay home and do not feel compelled to work when they are sick. Third, supportive working conditions can address the increased psychological demands on workers—the fear of exposure, the worry of bringing the disease home, increased work demands and time pressure, and balancing work with greater personal obligations. Providing flexibility with breaks, alternative scheduling, and clear and accurate communications encourage a supportive work environment, especially important to workers during this demanding time.

See WISH for essential workplaces: Strategies and resources

Participation

Employee participation in decision-making facilitates a broader culture of health, safety, and well-being within any organization. A key part of this is to provide a mechanism for workers to provide information in an environment that is supportive and using methods that the workers trust will be well received. Encouraging employees to identify safety hazards and threats without fear of retaliation is critical to organizational functioning in the everchanging context of COVID-19. Employees have the best understanding of how the current work environment impacts them and how it might be improved. When managers listen to employees, it can promote the development of innovative and simple workplace improvements. Being heard may also reduce workplace stress as it can contribute to a more supportive work environment.

See WISH for essential workplaces: Strategies and resources

Comprehensive and collaborative strategies

Many parts of an organization can influence working conditions that in turn impact the exposure to COVID-19, as well as support workers’ well-being during the pandemic. Different areas of an organizationincluding janitorial services, inventory management, sales, shipping, and othersbenefit from working together to understand the impacts on each other’s jobs and how they can help each other. Collaborating across an organization encourages coordinated efforts and creates practices that support workers throughout an organization. 

See WISH for essential workplaces: Strategies and resources

Leadership commitment

Leadership commitment is driven by clear, consistent, and transparent communication from management to the whole organization regarding policies, programs, and practices that protect workers from COVID-19. Workers need to trust leadership in their response to the pandemic. Leadership across different levels need to demonstrate that they are doing their part by being accountable for the working conditions that impact the risk and fear of transmission of COVID-19 among workers. Communication content should be verified for accuracy and be developed based on public health recommendations and guidelines for best practices. 

See WISH for essential workplaces: Strategies and resources

Adherence

While both ethical norms and legal standards are changing quickly as communities and governments enact sweeping rules to stem the spread of COVID-19, adhering to worker safety and health standards provides a starting point for employers to protect their workers. Organizations must follow existing and evolving standards and recommendations from governmental agencies for reducing the risk of transmission. In addition, adhering to wage and benefits requirements, especially providing and encouraging use of sick leave policies, helps provide a supportive environment for workers during the pandemic. Many governmental and non-governmental agencies are providing resources to help organizations create safer and more supportive environments. In addition, there are specific recommendations for industries (e.g., healthcare and construction) that organizations must adhere to.

See WISH for essential workplaces: Strategies and resources

Data-driven action

Using data to set priorities and inform decisions during this time of uncertainty can help guide an organization’s efforts. There is a range of data that quantifies levels of risk and can inform planning. For example, monitoring indoor air quality and the level of carbon dioxide provides an indication of how much fresh air is in the workplace. Using payroll and shift assignment data can identify and plan work assignments to minimize worker exposures to other workers and customers or clients. Wide availability of reliable COVID-19 tests can help identify those employees who need to quarantine and may need access to treatment, while minimizing the extent of exposing other workers. Qualitative data from both managers and frontline workers can be used to identify opportunities and find solutions to improve working conditions, as explained above in the participation section. Data can also be used to measure improvements related to the efforts implemented to reduce the health impacts of COVID-19. Short surveys of workers can provide confidential feedback and communicates that leadership values worker input. Finally, sharing findings with employees, without compromising confidentiality, is critical in developing trust. Seeing success and positive changes may boost employee morale and increase motivation to be engaged at work during this challenging time.  

See WISH for essential workplaces: Strategies and resources

 

About the Workplace Integrated Safety and Health (WISH) Assessment

Developed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Center for Work, Health, and Well-being, the Workplace Integrated Safety and Health (WISH) Assessment measures workplace policies, programs, and practices that focus on working conditions and organizational facilitators of worker safety, health, and well-being. This tool can be used by employers and researchers to assess the extent of implementation of an integrated approach. The categories that comprise the WISH Assessment are also reflected and expounded upon in the Center’s Implementing an Integrated Approach Guidelines.