NEBGH CEO Candice Sherman shares insights into the guide and how employers can prepare for another pandemic.
Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) recently released a guide for employers to manage the current COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemic situations.
The "Pandemic Response, Recovery, and Planning: Lessons Learned for Employers in 2020" guide offers resources, best practices, and action steps around pandemic planning and strategy for the employer community.
The beginning of the pandemic presented employers with many unknowns and a learn-on-the-fly mentality, so NEBGH wanted to compile those learnings and create a guide for future pandemic responses.
"We thought it was important to pull together all of the learnings and best practices from the last year, so that now, and in the future, folks have our resource that they can [utilize,"] Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH, told HealthLeaders.
Sherman added that due to the ongoing vaccination effort around the country, employers may start bringing employees back to the workplace if they haven't already.
She said this is an “opportune time” for employers of all types to “review and refresh what they have in place, [look into] what more they might need to do [to be prepared,] and what some of the new challenges will be."
While focused on the acute, short-term issues presented by COVID-19, NEBGH is also looking ahead to the next potential pandemic situation.
"Experts are certainly predicting that this will not be the last pandemic we have to face, and so it's important to be prepared for whatever lies ahead," Sherman said.
Among the recommendations in the guide are seven action steps that HR and benefit managers can take to mitigate the damage from a widespread viral outbreak:
- Ground pandemic response and recover in key principles
- Create COVID-safe workplaces
- Enhance the work-from-home experience
- Navigate return-to-work effectively
- Adapt benefits to address COVID (and COVID-related) challenges
- Develop a compelling vaccine engagement strategy
- Prepare now for the next pandemic
"All of them are critically important," Sherman said about the action steps. "It's important to rely on science and data, and we felt it was important to provide resources that are reliable and dependable."
Sherman did point out that communication is one of the strongest points employers can make during the pandemic, noting that organizations have learned that in this kind of situation, “you cannot communicate early and often enough."
"Communicating whatever is known, and being clear about what's not known, has been effective in terms of engaging trust and letting people know that you're concerned about them, that you want to be providing information, and you intend to provide information. Communication has been key," Sherman added.
Sherman further explained that employers need to be proactive regarding the pandemic's lasting effects on employees.
She noted that the pandemic brought to light "issues that we've known have existed," including those around childcare, caring for elder family members, the social determinants of health, and mental health issues.
"Employers have tried to provide more support to employees in all of those areas [through] perhaps new digital solutions, and additional benefits that they may now be offering,” Sherman said. “COVID has shined a light on some of those issues that certainly pre-existed but have been exacerbated during the pandemic."
Moving forward, Sherman noted that organizations and employers of all types need to think about how to make the overall experience the most effective that it can be.
Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.