Safety is the new workplace ‘perk’ for job seekers

Christel Deskins

Job seekers are looking for more than just flexibility and a supportive culture in a post-pandemic world — they want a solid plan of how companies will prioritize their safety. More than half of employers are revisiting their emergency preparedness plans and using this time to widely communicate the proactive […]

  • Job seekers are looking for more than just flexibility and a supportive culture in a post-pandemic world — they want a solid plan of how companies will prioritize their safety.
  • More than half of employers are revisiting their emergency preparedness plans and using this time to widely communicate the proactive steps they’re taking to put employees first. 
  • But raising the bar on safety doesn’t only benefit employees — companies also send a clear message about their values to customers and can attract future applicants.
  • Experts suggested candidates research companies and their COVID-19 policies. You can even review an employer’s OSHA record for more thorough record keeping.
  • A candid conversation between you and your employer about safety concerns is critical “because both are going to benefit in the long run.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“How did you keep employees safe during the coronavirus pandemic?” 

That question will likely come up in job interviews in the near future. And experts said that how companies answer it could affect their ability to attract new talent and retain their standout employees.

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban recently addressed employee safety on CNBC. “Not only is it a safety issue; it’s a business issue,” he said. “How companies respond to that very question is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company.”

Pre-pandemic job seekers sought certain perks before accepting a job offer, like flexibility, the ability to work from home, and a supportive culture. Post-pandemic job hunters still value those things, but now safety tops the list — and applicants are paying attention to how exactly organizations have handled safety during COVID-19 when choosing where to work.

Safety is a right — and even more top of mind for employees

To be clear, safety is a right for workers, not a perk. Workplace safety in the US is governed by the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), under the “general duty clause.”

“That requires every employer to provide a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees,” said Aaron Holt, a labor and employment attorney with Cozen O’Connor in Houston, Texas.

While OSHA doesn’t have separate standards covering the coronavirus, the organization has issued guidance for preparing workplaces for COVID-19, including information on personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing and what to do if an exposure happens. States have also released their own guidelines and requirements for businesses to reopen and bring employees back to work safely.

Still, workers are concerned. A Gallup poll conducted in May found that 46% of employees were concerned about getting exposed to COVID-19 at work. In a recent survey by Glassdoor, 79% of employees returning to work expected employers to provide disinfectant and hand sanitizer, 54% expected mask/glove mandates, and 45% expected a six-foot distance between workspaces.

These concerns may be for good reason. According to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management, 34% of employers didn’t have an emergency preparedness plan before COVID-19. Among employers that had emergency policies, more than half didn’t have one covering communicable diseases. Now, 53% of employers said they’re revising their emergency preparedness plans.

“We’ve seen a lot of employers proactively taking steps in [COVID-19] to make their workplaces safer in a pandemic,” Holt said, such as increasing ventilation and air circulation, closing communal spaces and meeting rooms, partitioning workspaces, intensifying cleaning, and enforcing social distancing.

“I think that is going to eventually be a perk for employment once everyone starts to figure out how to make this COVID workplace productive and profitable,” he added. “Then it’s about attracting the best talent. Maybe that includes offering a flex schedule, some type of teleworking environment, or a workplace that employees will generally feel safer at.”

A safety record lures in talented candidates and is good for business

As companies shift their policies to address the coronavirus, employees and job seekers are also raising their expectations of safety, said Meredith Turney, a conscious leadership coach, and earning a reputation for being safety conscious is good for business.

“I think it’s definitely going to affect how they attract talent now and in the future,” she said, adding that big companies like Google are setting the example by allowing employees to choose where they work and providing $1,000 stipends to work remotely.

“They’re getting a lot of positive media coverage for that, which is going to attract more people who think, ‘OK, this is a flexible employer who gets it, who is using common sense, who is listening and giving employees what they need,'” Turney said.

On the flip side, L’Oreal received some backlash when it said it would require employers to return to working on site even if they were uncomfortable doing so. “They’re going to be perceived perhaps as putting profits over their people,” Turney said. “And that is going to have a negative consequence not only for their brand reputation, but also for the kind of talent that wants to work there.”

How organizations handle safety affects everyone involved with the organization, not just employees. About half of consumers believe businesses are “doing poorly, mediocre, or completely failing at putting people before profits during the pandemic,” according to the “2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update: Trust and the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Just 43% think companies are sufficiently protecting their employees from the coronavirus, and 46% don’t think organizations are supporting smaller suppliers and other businesses.

Employees are ambassadors for organizations. If they exude happiness, health, and security at a company, it sends an important message to outsiders, Turney said. “Clients and customers can see that,” she said. “I think more and more often consumers want conscious companies that consider all stakeholders.”

Safety will be a new consideration for job seekers

“Transparency around health and safety should be at the forefront of any employer brand, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19,” said Sarah Stoddard, a Glassdoor career expert.

“Across industries, employers are facing difficult decisions every day that can have varying impacts on their workforce and the talent they attract,” she said. “Whether it’s mandatory work from home, temperature checks upon arriving at the office, or wearing PPE at the office for extended periods of time, today’s job seeker has a whole new set of factors to consider when deciding which company is right for them.”

Nearly 80% of applicants, especially in the 18 to 34 age group, considered a company’s mission, purpose, and culture the top reason for applying for a job, according to a 2019 Glassdoor survey.

Stoddard said she’s seen several job postings outline new practices or policies aimed at protecting employee health. “With the impact of COVID-19, communicating these safety practices is important and will likely become common practice during the pandemic, as job seekers want to know their wellbeing is top of mind for their potential future employer,” she said.

Working from home was considered a perk of the job a few months ago. Now, Turney said more job ads seem to include the word “remote.” Given the ability to work remotely, she said applicants might start looking for new perks, like company-provided virtual gym memberships or meal kit subscriptions, which could make their lives better while working from home.

How to check a company’s safety record

Stoddard advised researching both the job and the company before applying. Read company reviews on sites like Glassdoor, which she said now allows job seekers to sort reviews by “COVID-19” to see how the organization is handling the pandemic. And some companies have added COVID-19 updates on their job profiles, social media, or websites to inform candidates of their health and safety measures.

As part of background research, review a company’s OSHA record to learn about any safety inspections or violations. “You can see whether or not their OSHA logs have something that might give you pause,” Holt said.

Ultimately, job seekers need to decide what their own safety “deal breakers” are before deciding where to work. “What is your personal comfort level in our current reality?” Turney said to ask yourself, such as whether or not you’re comfortable going into a physical workplace.

“Then, if you apply to the position, just ask them. ‘This is my level of comfort, what are y’all doing?'” she said. “‘Give me some examples. Show me some case studies of what you’re doing to provide this for your employees.'”

Safety must be a two-way conversation about an employee or job applicant’s concerns and what the employer is doing to increase safety and instill a sense of security, Turney said, “because both are going to benefit in the long run.”

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