Consultant at Mercer Jakarta
Panic about the recent outbreak of a new coronavirus that has spread beyond China seems slated to continue. This virus, first detected in Wuhan city, has affected business and travel in several parts of the world.
Though at the time of writing Indonesia has had no confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, to prevent its spread, every layer of society needs to play a part, including employers.
Employers have the interest and responsibility to make sure that both employees and nonemployees remain uninfected in the workplace.
Adopting strategies and measures in the workplace to ensure a healthy working environment will allow organizations to better protect employees, to increase their health and well-being and to allay the panic. Employers have at least three basic roles when there is a potential disease risk in the workplace:
Firstly, employers should take the lead in providing reliable and up-to-date information about the outbreak and how it will impact their business and operations.
Employees working abroad and traveling internationally should be aware of other geographic areas’ exposure to the virus. As employees spend most of their day in their workplace, employers should provide employees with education and training on preventing infection and spread of the virus as well as possible, including on protective behavior such as coughing etiquette. A commendable measure is providing a hotline for employees to contact management immediately when they feel they may have been exposed to a disease.
Secondly, organizations should provide resources and basic infrastructure to support workplace hygiene. This could be started by providing tissues, masks, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectants for employees to clean work facilities. The next step is to promote protective behavior for personal health and well-being by utilizing facilities provided in the workplace.
Lastly, employers need to instate a healthy workplace culture. This might not be the immediate and exclusive solution for the new coronavirus outbreak, but it will help organizations to minimize the risk of illnesses faced by employees in the long run.
Some companies might instate further health programs and policies, for example fitness and gym benefits, flexible working hours, flexible benefits and other competitive healthcare benefits. These programs aim to proactively improve employees’ health and well-being.
Additionally, organizations need to change to build a healthy workplace culture. They must remove the stigma of taking time off and sick leave.
Studies show that many employees still come to work when they are sick as they fear judgment and mistrust from their supervisors and coworkers. It is important for sick employees to stay at home — especially in the case of contagious diseases such as infection of the new coronavirus, though its exact source, let alone cure, is still unknown.
At least for the first couple of days, any employee who feels sick needs enough time to rest, seek medical help and, in the case of viral infections, for instance, prevent the spread of the virus to colleagues. Employers need to reinforce a culture where taking sick leave is normal or even suggested when employees have infectious diseases.
While the government takes action to check the new coronavirus at the national level, we are also responsible for taking care of our own health and hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus to ourselves, our workplace and households.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.