There’s a lot of talk about when daily life will return to “normal” after COVID-19. People are eager to eat at their favorite restaurants, send their kids back to school, and hug their loved ones. For many workers, however, it’s unlikely that their jobs will look the same as before. While this will be difficult to navigate, it could also signal some positive changes. That’s because the pandemic has been highlighting just how vulnerable our nation’s employees really are. And while doing so, it’s revealed big opportunities for American employers to make changes that benefit workers as well as their businesses.
As we progress towards our collective new normal, employees will be looking to employers to step up their games. The entire nation has seen that companies are capable of doing more to secure the physical, mental, and financial well-being of workers. As a result, the relationship between employers and employees has undergone a shift. Expectations have changed. The smartest employers are doubling down on fundamental changes in how they support their workforce.
During COVID-19, the focus on the struggle of workers has been front and center. The media has highlighted unsafe conditions and unprecedented economic suffering. However, we’re also seeing stories of companies making bold moves to keep their workers safe and secure — and not just from the medical risks of COVID-19.
Albertsons, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and Starbucks have all made news for increasing wages and offering other financial benefits. Wynn Resorts has provided — and then extended — full pay and health benefits for employees even though its operations have paused.
The focus on how employers are treating workers has been so intense that JUST Capital began tracking corporate America’s responses, highlighting which employers were doing the most, and which ones could be doing more. Martin Whittaker, JUST Capital’s CEO, noted that during their analysis they saw companies “raise wages, provide paid sick leave, hazard pay, having execs take pay cuts,” adding that companies were “changing very rapidly in response” to the pandemic.
All this attention on corporate response has raised the bar for companies across the board. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management found that many large organizations are offering more paid sick leave and family support even when not required to do so by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Another survey found that half of employers have rolled out special emotional and mental health programs to help employees cope with COVID-19 — benefits that weren’t offered before.
Workers are seeing that leading companies are taking action, and those same workers might be wondering why their own employer isn’t doing the same. As our economy begins its slow journey to a new reality, with millions of people looking for work again, companies that don’t rise to the occasion will fall behind.
The pandemic has had a dramatic effect on our economy, hitting hourly workers the hardest. The economic impact explains why so many employers are focusing on financial measures: relief funds, paid sick leave, childcare reimbursement, free health services, and earned wage access.
It’s important for employers to remember however, that many people were already struggling, long before the pandemic. Millions of people in our country go to work when they’re sick, have a hard time covering emergencies, and aren’t saving for retirement. These are issues that employers should help with: by offering better sick leave, and more ways for employees to build up emergency savings, allowing them the freedom to plan for the future. Employers who invest resources in creating better financial outcomes for workers will be more attractive.
While it’s unclear exactly what will happen next, one thing we know is this: The game has changed for the relationship between companies and workers. Employees have seen what their employers have the resources to do, and will expect that moving forward. As one grocery store worker described, when asked about expiring pay increases: “It feels like they just snapped their fingers and made it happen and now are just snapping their fingers and making it go away.”
Employers who make the choice to support employees will come out on top when it comes to hiring, retention, and a stronger overall business. The data from JUST Capital backs this up: It shows that companies focusing on workers are outpacing their competition, and will be better positioned for regrowth down the line. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because when employees feel supported they’re more focused and productive, which creates a stronger customer experience, and loyalty on all fronts. That’s a smart investment for any business — including yours.