Supporting employees during extreme circumstances like COVID-19

Healthy Living > Community > How can business support their employees during extreme events

Blog article | By Simplyhealth 22 June 2020

It is unprecedented times for the nation at the moment. Following the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) declaration that Coronavirus is now a global pandemic, the UK Government has also raised our risk to ‘high’. In order to reduce the spread of the virus, the economy has moved quickly to implement changes that have never been seen before in living memory.


We, along with every business, have looked at what we can do to help our employees during this period and here we share with you a few thoughts and suggestions, completely appreciating that these won’t be right for all businesses.


Firstly, it’s important to remember that each employee has a different role and different family commitments. There won’t be a ‘one size fits all’ solution for colleagues. However, as a business, wherever possible we’ve tried to offer a range of options for employees with as much flexibility as practical.


Our approach at Simplyhealth has been to protect and support our people and we considered carefully how we could:

  1. support colleagues transition to remote working 
  2. best support our colleagues’ mental health and wellbeing
  3. continue to develop and support our leaders and managers


Communicate communicate communicate!


Whether your employees are still working at your workplace, or whether most are now working from home, it’s good practice for employers to:

  • Keep all employees updated on actions being taken within the business – regular, clear communication is incredibly important and valued at this time
  • Ensure employees who are in the high-risk group follow social distancing guidance
  • Have up to date contact details and emergency contact details for each employee


For any employees who are still in an office environment:

  • Support managers, so they know how to spot possible symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, including sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures if a member of staff becomes unwell
  • Observing social distancing by staying 2 metres (6 feet) away from other people
  • Avoiding busy commuting times on public transport where travel is essential
  • Washing your hands as soon as you get home and arrive at work
  • Provide access to soap and water for employees, and encourage everyone to wash hands for 20 seconds on a regular basis – poster reminders can work well
  • Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them


Overall, we focused on making sure we reacted quickly and changed our approaches, policies and ways of working to suit both the government guidance and our colleague’s concerns. We communicated clearly to our people about what’s in place to help them. Now we are focused on sustaining this as we move forward over the coming weeks and months in order to maintain the positive momentum and engagement we’ve experienced to date.


Emotional support


For all employees and their families, this virus will affect them emotionally one way or another. This is particularly true if they themselves or a family member falls into the high-risk category. We felt it critical to establish a rhythm of communication as we adjust to new ways of working so people have something to look forward to each week. 


Businesses could use an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to support colleagues at this difficult time. EAP’s provide confidential telephone advice from trained specialists and counsellors for health issues, legal concerns, financial challenges, a relationship question or just an everyday problem you are facing right now.  


Organise at least weekly team meetings through video conferencing software so that you can catch up with each other about work and home life. Why not try a ‘team lunch’ over the web and have a natter, and get your children and pets involved too. Really increasing the levels of contact and regularly checking in with people will be more important than ever.


In addition, at Simplyhealth, we launched a weekly Wellbeing communication sharing general health and wellbeing advice, with topics to include, Nutrition, Resilience, Anxiety, Sleep and Mindfulness. We also trained up a group of Mental Health First Aiders who are actively supporting our colleagues. 


Financial support


The Chancellor set out a package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support businesses financially. This package covers a variety of scenarios for businesses including but not limited to:

  • Job retention schemes
  • Deferring VAT and Income Tax payments
  • Statutory sick pay relief packages
  • Various grants, funding’s and loans


Mortgage lenders will now offer three-month repayment holidays. This means that you can effectively pause your mortgage and restart it up to three months later. This would allow you to release the money that you would usually pay towards your mortgage, to support your daily living costs during this difficult time. The government had also urged buyers and sellers to delay moving unless it was unavoidable for contractual reasons.


For people who rent, the government has announced emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation during the coronavirus crisis. Landlords will not be able to start possession proceedings until you have missed rent payments for at least three months. You can find out more with the Money Advice Service.


Remember to promote EAP services through your workplace, which can support employees with financial issues and debt worries through this difficult time and in the future.


At Simplyhealth, we are offering a suite of new temporary benefits, in addition to our standard leave policies, which all colleagues can still access, to support those who need to care for others in the coming weeks and months. These include:

  • Options to buy an additional four weeks’ leave in addition to our June and December windows normally on offer – the cost of this can then be spread over the remaining 9 months of the year and has a reduced financial impact on individuals
  • Banking hours, which enables our colleagues to reduce their hours or not work at all for a while to allow them to look after loved ones, but still continue to receive basic pay. The colleague will be expected to work these hours back over an agreed period of time


Sick Pay


For employees who are self-isolating due to sickness, they will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP). This is also applicable if they are not themselves sick. Employers should use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about sick pay.


Once the legislation has been passed, SSP will be paid from day 1, rather than day 4 if you are absent from work and needing to self-isolate. This will apply retrospectively from 13 March. You can get an isolation note by visiting NHS 111 online, rather than visiting a doctor.


Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £118 per week, and self-employed people, are able to claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.


At Simplyhealth new joiners are ordinarily not eligible for company sick pay until they’ve completed their probationary period, however we have now offered full sick pay for all colleagues impacted by the Coronavirus (whether they were sick, or having to self-isolate), regardless of their length of service.


Job Retention Scheme


In order to mitigate the impact of the government’s Covid-19 isolation measures on both employers and employees, the government has introduced a scheme under which it will pay up to 80% of the wage costs of workers who are not required by their employers at this time (subject to a maximum of £2,500 per month).


Employers will be able to designate employees as furloughed workers where there is no longer work they can do and submit details of the employees and their earnings to HMRC through a new online portal that HMRC will set up. Employers are not obliged to top up the remaining 20% of the furloughed workers’ pay but may do so. Find out more.


What other steps has Simplyhealth taken?


Simplyhealth has taken the decision to close most of our office buildings from Friday 27th March and move to pretty much full home working. Two buildings will remain partially open for skeleton staff and essential work.


We are continuing to monitor and review Government guidelines every day to ensure we continue to provide a good service for our customers whilst balancing the care and health and wellbeing of our people.


As well as the activities outlined above, we have adopted a very flexible approach to homeworking enabling colleagues to work flexible shift patterns around childcare and caring for the elderly or vulnerable. To support this we developed a Temporary Working Guidelines and are sharing advice to all colleagues on remote working, giving some hints and tips to help set them up for success.


We are sharing with our people useful resources to provide support through a range of media including webinars and short on-line books to cover topics from resilience and home working to nutrition and relaxation.  


Finally we have focused efforts on supporting our leaders. We have offered access to live webinars on subjects such as ‘Leading Remote Working’ and ‘Managing through adversity’, online one on one coaching for leaders and access to online learning modules.


How Simplyhealth health plans are helping our customers


Simplyhealth customers and employees with a health plan also have access to our 24/7 GP helpline service. While our GP service is not for coronavirus related enquiries, it can be used for all other medical concerns and the physio video consultation service is an ideal way of ensuring you can maintain your treatment.

More information


For more detailed and up to date information, please visit the Government website: COVID-19: guidance for employees, employers and businesses

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