Getting Ready for H1N1

Plans that employees see as too narrowly focused can leave them with the sense that their organization only has a superficial concern for their health. For example, if out of their company's plan, employees only witness the distribution of hand sanitizer and tissues, overall employee engagement and productivity will be negatively impacted. In contrast, when organizations can demonstrate credible concern for their employees, research by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) shows that average employee discretionary effort can increase as much as 26%.

CEB recommends 5 steps that organizations can take to build pandemic plans that safeguard employee health and also work toward critical organizational goals:

1. Create plans driven by strategic objectives. Identify one or more clear workforce objectives on which to base your plan, such as maximizing employee productivity or safeguarding the well-being of employees and their families. One CEB member, a financial services company, recently developed a pandemic playbook shaped by the organization's passion for being an advocate of employee health.

This workforce objective serves as the basis for the company's pandemic policies, such as paid time off, and influences how different corporate stakeholders build on each other's prevention and response activities. The playbook arms the organization with a sustainable decision framework applicable to future pandemics and has resulted in positive feedback.

2. Review and revise plans that are already in place. It's never too late to review your current plan. Examine your pandemic plan to build a suite of threat assessment and response tools, a communications cascade, and policies to support strategic objectives when a pandemic strikes. Know and communicate how your organization will respond to worst-case scenarios—for instance, the U.S. government's pandemic plan stress test forecasts employee absentee rates between 20 and 40 percent.

3. Ensure local staff provides frequent, targeted health updates. Monitoring employee well-being includes more than physical safety and employee absentee statistics. Companies should collect and communicate regularly information that directly impacts workforce objectives in addition to data on community outbreaks and employee health concerns, which can be leading indicators of decreased workforce productivity.

4. Target communications to key populations throughout the organization. Create customized messaging, consistent with the organization's objectives, for all key stakeholders. For employees, advocate how the company's response framework safeguards their health and that of their families. For managers, let them know what to do if they suspect an employee is ill and how they should communicate the company's pandemic plan. For suppliers, tell how the organization will continue to meet prior commitments.

5. Plan for the financial and workforce impact of a pandemic. Work with benefits providers to forecast potential pandemic-related health care costs and design employee communications emphasizing preventative care. Be sure to conduct workforce planning for mission-critical activities and positions, and evaluate whether the organization's IT bandwidth can handle large numbers of employees working offsite.

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