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Pandemic Response, Recovery and Planning- Lessons Learned for Employers in 2020

February 2021

What did we learn in 2020? And how can we apply those learnings to the future since according to experts, we are likely to face additional health crises in the years to come?

1. Ground Pandemic Response and Recovery in key Principles

Responding to and recovering from a pandemic are complex tasks for any organization. To be most effective, response and recovery plans must be grounded in key principles: values, science, data and communication. Now is the time for employers to examine their plans and bolster the role these principles play.

2. Create COVID-Safe Workplaces

Different work environments have varying levels of pandemic-related risk but all have some degree of risk. COVID-19 poses a particular threat as it is a highly infectious respiratory virus with asymptomatic spread and little existing herd immunity. Employers can implement multiple layers of control to reduce the risk of workplace exposure and increase the safety of employees.

3. Enhance the Work-From-Home (WFH) Experience

Some employers already had flexible WFH arrangements in place before the pandemic but were not—understandably—prepared for a sudden transition to predominantly WFH operations. Now best practices have emerged that employers can use both temporarily and permanently in some cases to better manage virtual workforces and enhance the WFH experience for employees.

4. Navigate Return-To-Work Effectively (RTW)

Employers are well aware that returning employees to the workplace is not a simple proposition. External and internal criteria are needed to determine readiness and timing, both for worksites and the people returning to them.

5. Adapt Benefits to Address COVID (and COVID-related) Challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously created new health challenges but it has also highlighted existing challenges for employees including those related to mental health, caregiving and inequities based on race and social determinants. For healthcare systems, the pandemic has forced a rapid transition to virtual care. Employers need to be thinking about ways to adapt benefit offerings to best support employee health and well-being over both the short and long term.

6. Develop a Compelling Vaccine Engagement Strategy

Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines will be available for broad deployment during 2021. Vaccine-hesitant populations have existed throughout U.S. history, but misinformation, distrust of science and political schisms have risen exponentially, driving up the level of vaccine skepticism. Employers will have an essential role to play in disseminating authoritative information about vaccines and engaging employees in uptake if the virus is to dissipate. Surveys have shown that employers are among the most trusted sources of reliable information for the American public.

7. Prepare Now for the Next Pandemic

The question is not if but when the next pandemic will occur. Each pandemic has its own unique characteristics, but employers can enhance their preparedness by using guidelines and frameworks such as the WHO Pandemic Phases Framework.