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Ready to reopen? 5 steps for retailers to re-engage workers

As some retailers reopen their doors, they are faced with the challenge of retaining talent while also managing costs. Many are encountering issues they’ve never dealt with before as they deploy their return-to-work strategy

  • How to communicate with employees?
  • How to re-onboard employees for the reopening?
  • How to handle health insurance benefits?
  • How to address compensation, bonuses and other incentives?
  • How to keep employees safe?

1. Communicate with purpose + listen to feedback

Plan ahead to engage frequently and positively with employees as doors reopen; when restrictions ease, you should be better positioned for your employees to return. Draw from your organizational culture to lead with transparency, authenticity and empathy. As new ways of working evolve in the wake of the crisis, retain those that protect people and productivity. Help employees know their voices are being heard: Create a feedback loop to listen to them. Implement formal and informal reporting to gauge morale and sentiment, then correct course as necessary.

2. Create a positive re-onboarding experience

Provide return-to-work incentives, such as COBRA premiums incurred during furloughs, new and existing referral bonus programs, rehire cash bonuses and partial or complete back pay. Update records and digital badges to help support a smooth re-onboarding process. Link employee records to prior service so workers don’t lose seniority and benefits. Plan budgets to compensate employees for re-onboarding. Digital tools can help guide, monitor, respond to and support returning employees with the required forms they need to fill out as well as training and information.

Why workers are reluctant to return

Fear of getting sick from being at work
Unwilling to use public transportation for my commute
My responsibilities as a parent or caregiver
Taking care of sick family members
Source: PwC COVID-19 US Employee Pulse Survey
May 8, 2020: base 468 (those forced to stop working, but still being paid and those forced to work remotely)
Q: Which of the following would prevent you from returning to your office or work site location, if your employer asked you to return tomorrow? Please select all that apply. *main categories
Note: Workers in the Northeast are more likely to select unwillingness to use public transportation.

3. Understand health insurance options

As employees return to work, retailers should consider reinstating benefits for eligible employees, especially hourly workers. For employees rehired within 30-to-60 days, companies can typically reinstate benefits without a break in coverage. Deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums may not need to restart. Beyond that 30-to-60-day window, benefit policies for new hires could apply. When rehiring employees who’ve opted for COBRA coverage, consider honoring deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. Waiting periods are waived for rehired employees if the break in service is less than 13 consecutive weeks, per the Affordable Care Act. The waiting period may also be waived for employees with a longer gap in service, based on each plan’s rules. An interactive dashboard can help access, visualize and compare federal and state guidance on workforce decisions.

4. Take a holistic look at compensation

Consider paying returning employees the same rate they were paid before, even if markets rates are now lower due to the hike in unemployment — especially for retail and restaurant positions (tipped and non-tipped) where enhanced unemployment might add up to more than the worker’s standard hourly wage. Give employees collecting unemployment insurance plenty of notice about being re-onboarded so they can comply with state and federal government policies regarding terminating unemployment insurance. When possible, restore incentives, annual bonuses and discretionary awards without pro-rating them for time away — a goodwill gesture like this can go a long way toward helping cement employee loyalty. Communicate the impact of the downturn on executive compensation to all stakeholders — especially employees — to help underscore that the entire workforce has been affected.

Preferred safety measures*

Provide personal protective equipment, such as masks
Assurances I'll be notified if someone I work with has tested positive
Require customers to follow safety and hygiene practices
Provide assurances about cleanliness and disinfecting procedures
Clear response and shut-down protocols if someone were to test positive
Reconfigure layout to promote physical distancing between workers
Provide mandatory employee testing for clearance prior to return
Provide a way to give feedback on COVID-related policies
Reconfigure layout to promote physical distancing between workers and customers
Close off high risk areas that cannot be adequately disinfected
Source: PwC COVID-19 US Employee Pulse Survey
May 8, 2020: base 468 (those forced to stop working, but still being paid and those forced to work remotely)
Q: Which of the following measures would you need your employer to take in order to feel comfortable going back to your office or work site location?
Please select all that apply.
*main categories

5. Manage health and safety

Workers told PwC they want safety and well-being prioritized when they return to work. Using data to guide policy, develop a plan to help address workplace health and safety. Geo-gated contact tracing enterprise tools can help identify risk of exposure within the workplace quickly and efficiently while also protecting workers’ privacy. Consider a phased plan by site and type of job. Build a framework to help manage and monitor legal and operational risks with considerations for health and safety as well as business continuity — taking into account vendors, suppliers and others who may come into contact with workers in the workplace.

Customers are seeking the same safeguards as employees so safety measures like reconfigured spaces for physical distancing and traffic-flow guidelines as well as PPE can make both employees and customers feel secure. Just as important are communications about safety protocols to both employees and customers. Building trust through transparency allows retailers to emerge stronger in the recovery and beyond.

Contact us

Sushil Ahuja

Partner, PwC US

Derek Townsend

Partner, Deals, PwC US

Andrew Skor

Principal, PwC US

Sarah E Pullins

Director, PwC US

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