Employers are Acing Their COVID-19 Response — For Now

As divisiveness between political party leaders’ responses to the spreading coronavirus runs rampant, one institution (besides medical personnel) generally stands apart from the fray – employers. For the most part, American employers are seemingly filling much of the leadership void, and employees are giving their organizations high marks in troubled times.

To find out how business is perceived during the coronavirus crisis, global communications firm Weber Shandwick and consultancy KRC Research conducted a national survey (Perceptions About COVID-19 and The Employer Response), that determined how good of a job employers were doing in this first month of the crisis. We surveyed 1,000+ American adults from March 4 to 6 and then again from March 16 to 18, 2020. We asked a range of questions to determine how these respondents feel about the pandemic and their employers’ responses.

Our first and most important finding is that as the pandemic gets worse, confidence in the employer only increases. In the most recent wave of the survey, no less than 73% of employees expressed confidence in how their employers are handling the outbreak. This is a substantial uptick from the already impressive 60 percent who expressed confidence just two weeks earlier in the first wave.

In this time of unprecedented crisis, organizations are thus perceived as providing a level of assurance not usually assigned to them. Workplaces are serving as safe havens, albeit often virtually. This should not be surprising. Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate and KRC Research’s previous research on Civility in America, for example, has shown that the workplace can bring people together during tough times and serve, in effect, as a sanctuary.

Secondly, the bond between employee and employer is strengthened even more when an employer credibly and openly shares information that it has obtained about the pandemic and explains its impact on workplace policies and employees’ wellbeing. The proportion of employees who received information from their employer on the coronavirus, its policies and actions increased 39 percentage points between our surveys – from 42% to 81%. Employers stepped up during that time in a formidable way.

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Such information sharing has a profound impact on employee perceptions. When information is shared between employer and employee, employees are nearly twice as likely to believe that their employer places worker safety over profits. When organizations engage in timely and empathetic information sharing such as it is largely doing now, it contributes to yet a further sense of safety. The following survey results show no less:

  • 79% say their employer puts safety first—up from 54% in the first survey. Those who received information are more likely to feel their employer puts safety of workers above profits (88%), compared to those who did not receive employer information (43%).
  • 77% feel their employers’ response is exactly what it should be. Those who received information are more likely to feel their employers’ response is appropriate (88%) compared to those who did not receive employer information (33%).

Americans’ positive view of their employers during this crisis so far is all the more impressive given the high level of anxiety that the public is feeling – they’re not only concerned about risks to their health and the health of loved ones, but the risk to job security. Workers are nervous. Half—50%—are concerned they will lose their job or income, according to the research. The concern is higher among men (56%) than women (42%); younger people than older (67% of Gen Z), and Hispanics (65%) more than other ethnic groups.

As unemployment rates rise exponentially as we saw just this week, we may see some of these favorable perceptions of companies and their leaders fall. But for now, American employers are doing their part to lessen anxieties and keep employees productive.

Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross is Chief Reputation Strategist-In-Residence at global communications firm Weber Shandwick. She is one of the world’s leading experts on reputation and the author of two books -- CEO Capital: A Guide to Building CEO Reputation and Company Success and Corporate Reputation: 12 Steps to Safeguarding and Recovering Reputation.  Follow her at @reputationRx.

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