Soon after the outbreak of Covid-19 in Serbia (and globally) essential questions started to roll in regarding different aspects of business operations, means of reorganizing the workload and occupational safety. It goes without saying that every employer wishes to keep all their employees in work and maintain an optimal revenue stream. Keeping in mind the rapid changes in the global market, the current situation may present an opportunity for both employers and their workers to reach a sustainable and mutually beneficial solution through joined forces.

For employees, the financial impact of this crisis is a matter of justifiable concern, which begs the question – what can the employers do to ease that concern? How do they help employees keep their jobs, remain productive, and satisfied? Also, how can employers preserve/protect their brand and its reputation in these difficult circumstances? The answers can be found if we turn to crisis management and develop a clear crisis management plan. In order to allow the creation of such a plan we first need to review the actions employers in Serbia have taken so far, and consider possibilities for the implementation of new ones.

How do the measures employers take influence their brand?

Data indicates that a great number of companies/organizations has indeed recognized the severity of their situation. There are a multitude of measures which are applied to help the businesses resume their operations as optimally as possible. Maintaining the existing pay grades, adapting benefits, redistributing working hours, sending people on mandatory vacations and leaves with or without pay are just a few among the measures employers have taken.

Going through the information listed in global studies, we find out that 77% of companies keep their compensations and benefits as they were in the period before the pandemic. The reason for it lies in an attempt to ensure future financial safety of their workforce. Actions such as these benefit workers and strengthen the reputation of businesses. This course of action is promoted through government relief opportunities aimed at such businesses. Income tax relief, relief on mandatory employee benefits and utility fees and a moratorium on entrepreneurial loans are among the stimulations intended for businesses which keep their compensations intact and retain all jobs.

Measures taken to weather the storm differ from industry to industry, from sector to sector and from one business to another. Clearly, the businesses operating in the IT industry and those in manufacturing, for instance, are not in the position to use the same contingency measures.

There is a great majority of companies from the IT sector and other sectors as well, which have taken steps to reorganize the means and structure of their operations. For the employees of both IT and various consulting firms, working from home has become the norm. On the other hand, employers in manufacturing and those in the trade sector have limited options for implementing such a strategy, due to the specific work tasks of their employees. With the rise of both manufacturing and consumption, workload in manufacturing and trade has increased up to 400% for some products. Certain companies within those sectors, among which mostly those from the pharmaceutical industry, are introducing financial stimulations for their workers. The mentioned stimulations usually include pay raises and various bonuses. This comes as no surprise owing to the fact that pharmaceutical companies have been functioning at full capacity since the outbreak.

On a different note, what should we do with people who can’t work from home at all? Is there a possibility to reorganize their work somehow? The answer is yes – several possibilities in fact. One of the measures taken is working in shifts in order to reduce the number of people in closed spaces at the same time. Examples of this can be seen nationwide, since some services, like retailers, have had their working hours shortened. Businesses have paid attention to the family obligations of their workers through adjustments and better flexibility of their working hours. For example, since the schools were closed, parents of school-age children were given options to adjust their work schedule to better suit their families. Additionally, the employee transportation was reorganized to include all places of interest for the majority of people. Such a strategy should reduce the negative consequences for those who stop self-isolating in order to go to work.

All the so far mentioned measures are a foundation for mutual benefit of everyone involved. They help us overcome negative effects of the pandemic in the best possible way. Fulfilling the needs of people on the payroll and investing in healthcare contributes to employee loyalty at all times, and especially during a crisis. Building a solid support system within a business is one of the key factors which lead to better productivity but also strengthen the reputation of the company’s brand. The most valuable resource of every business is its workforce. They are the mirror of their company – the brand ambassadors. When they are happy and committed, fluctuation diminishes while retention increases, all leading to the optimization of company’s expenses. The mentioned aspects have a major impact on the perception of a business as a “desired employer” not only on behalf of the current employees but the potential ones as well, and the entire market for that matter.

In addition to what has been said so far, it is necessary to pay attention to changes on the market and redirect the business towards supporting the community. This way, the brand will not only survive the crisis but it will emerge with its position strengthened by the reputation of being socially responsible and putting the needs of others first.

Within the broader public, the measures employers take towards reorganizing the work through the pandemic are a subject often present in the media. However, means of psychological support (coaching, online psychotherapy, training courses…) are of equal importance. Sadly, these measures are not implemented enough across many economic activities.

Providing employees with sufficient support, both psychological and physical, will make them feel safer and more secure in the workplace. They are expected to handle their tasks efficiently, but in order for that to happen, all the underlying influences must be taken into consideration. One of the key aspects in such an analysis are company values. Nurturing company values and connecting them with the values of those employed, especially in times of crisis, builds trust and leads to employers being perceived as consistent.

Suggestions to consider in order to preserve a brand:

  • With the help of company management, it is necessary for those responsible in the HR department and relevant individuals from Occupational Health and Safety administration to clearly define their tasks and take actions accordingly.
  • Strive to make crucial decisions and ask crucial questions. When and how to communicate with employees and clients? Have their needs changed? How can fulfillment of those needs be affected? How can customers fulfill their goals by purchasing your products? Define a clear action plan and communication plan based on your answers.
  • Give your clients or end users the opportunity to communicate with you and convey their thoughts and suggestions, through an app or a short survey. Afterwards, analyze the data received, devise a plan based on that valuable feedback and stick to it. Naturally, be open in your communication with clients/end users about what they can expect.
  • Communicate your organizational changes and work structure as well as potential changes to the compensation policy and benefits to your employees with transparency.
  • Use the lessons learned through the ongoing crisis and map the weakest aspects of your current business model so you can determine an action plan for potential future crises.
  • Show empathy, understanding and concern for your employees.
  • Create a Crisis Management System and set clear plans, procedures and protocols for future crises.
  • Neither let you employees feel uncertain nor unjustifiably optimistic.
  • Provide all your workers with necessary personal protective equipment.
  • Nurture social responsibility through your business and support the members of your community
  • Don’t forget to take your time and survey your end users, clients and/or your market. Additionally, invest your time into actions and messages of support and empowerment aimed at your clients and end users.

Businesses can use this period of turmoil to provide a positive influence on their workers, customers, clients and partners by putting the needs of all of them first and the needs of the business last. This approach is crucial for maintaining competitiveness on the market and reaching that prestigious title of a “desired employer”.