guest column:Emmanuel Zvada

WHILE we do not yet know how the COVID-19 is going to impact Zimbabwe, HR leaders should be preparing for what’s next. The question is not if coronavirus will disrupt business, but when and how around managing through flu and other epidemics in the workplace. The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has everyone on edge and extreme measures are being encouraged and enforced across the globe by the World Health Organisation. HR leaders should safeguard against the spread of the illness, without causing panic.

The situation is ever-evolving as the virus continues to spread in some Southern African countries. l feel HR practitioners and policymakers should also come up with responsive measure as a way of preparing for the virus as they monitor public health notices. In this article, we will try to come up with precautionary measures we think are critical to employers. The low-cost measures below will help prevent the spread of infections in your workplace, such as colds, flu and stomach bugs, and protect your customers, contractors and employees. Employers should start doing these things now, even if COVID-19 has not arrived in the communities where they operate. They can already reduce working days lost due to illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives at one of your workplaces.

Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic
Hygiene in the workplace is an important issue, but also a delicate one for managers and small business owners. The workplace should be clean and safe; employees should be exposed to a minimum of germs. These policies are important regardless of industry, but incredibly important for food service and companies that regularly deal directly with the public. Surfaces (eg desks and tables) and objects (eg telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly because contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads.

Introduce a hygiene policy
This policy should clearly explain what you expect of staff. It should also state what the business is willing to provide employees. Regular cleaning. Simply, regularly cleaning – of the toilets, workstations and the office – is one of the most effective ways to improve hygiene. If possible, hire external cleaners to clean the office after hours. Provide toiletries to employees. Prompt your employees into maintaining a hygienic workplace by providing them with toiletries. For example, sanitiser bottles, soap, boxes of tissues, and clean wipes.
Hand washing

Hand washing, which logically should not be an issue, is with many employees. In a food service business or hospitality business, it is crucial that employees wash their hands frequently, whenever they use the bathroom or handle food or beverages. Hand washing can lessen the ability to spread diseases like the common cold or flu, along with more serious illnesses, which is very important in any workplace. Hand washing and the use of hand sanitisers also has great importance as a protection against the spread of illnesses.

Put sanitising hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled. Hand sanitisers are very helpful when dealing with the general population, or in workplaces that may have sick employees. Frequently used equipment such as telephones, shopping cart handles, computer keyboards and similar items are breeding grounds for bacteria and can easily spread germs throughout an office or an entire business location. Provide hand sanitisers to your employees and encourage their use, particularly during the height of cold and flu season.

Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace
To prevent the transmission of all respiratory infections in healthcare settings, including influenza, the following infection control measures should be implemented at the first point of contact with a potentially infected person. The following measures to contain respiratory secretions are recommended for all individuals with signs and symptoms of a respiratory infection. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. You are then encouraged to dispose of the tissue after use. Ensure that face masks and / or paper tissues are available at your workplaces, for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them.

‘Handshake-free’ meetings and other coronavirus precautions
Organisers of meetings and events need to think about the potential risk from COVID-19 because there is a risk that people attending your meeting or event might be unwittingly bringing the COVID-19 virus to the meeting. Others might be unknowingly exposed to COVID-19. Develop a preparedness plan to prevent infection at your meeting or event. Consider whether a face-to-face meeting or event is needed. Could it be replaced by a teleconference, zoom platforms etc.

Develop a response plan
Develop a response plan in case someone at the meeting becomes ill with symptoms of COVID-19 (dry cough, fever, malaise). This plan should include at least identifying a room or area (Quarantine room) where someone who is feeling unwell or has symptoms can be safely isolated. Have a plan for how they can be safely transferred from there to a health facility. This plan should be put in place in advance with health department or rapid response teams.

Effective communication is key
Internal communication. Remind employees of the importance of personal hygiene on a regular basis.

Let them know how much it means to your business. So as to avoid the spread of misinformation, HR should endeavour to ensure that employees aren’t sharing false information or gossiping about other. The communication can be done via various channels such as bulletins, sticking posters on the wall, e-mails, chat groups, town hall, infographics, videos, and any mode of media that could help to effectively communicate the message to all employees. Keep communicating and promoting the message that people need to stay at home even if they have just mild symptoms of COVID-19. Display posters with this message in your workplaces. Combine this with other communication channels commonly used in your organisation or business.

Evaluating your sick and employee leave policies
Sick leave shall be granted to an employee according to Labour Act section 14 . It can also be a good time to evaluate your sick and employee leave policies, including considering extended sick day allowances for employee the reason being you would not want ill or suspected employees coming to work. If working from home is not an option, consider developing a plan to waive or extend sick day caps, so that employees can stay home. Employers should be willing to give some days of those who have visited affected countries. The off days will be specifically for screening and undergoing some tests related to coronavirus.

Work from home policies
Many companies are coming up and reconsidering their work-from-home policies in preparation for what may come if the virus’s impact is widespread and prolonged. As you prepare your employees for remote work, particularly those who typically come into the office, you will want to check in on them to help them navigate the shift, especially in the early days. Consider creating support groups with experienced remote-work employees and sharing practices that will help them assimilate to the new work structure. While working from home can be considered as another alternative, the employees also need to have access to internet and electricity. If employees will be working from home, support will be needed greatly from relevant authorities and service providers eg electricity and water presence as well as reducing internet tariffs.

HR leaders should safeguard against the spread of the illness, without causing panic. You need to take leadership in HR and implement quick coronavirus HR measures before it hits us. By providing employees with accurate information about coronavirus, HR can maintain good order and protect the organisation against potential liability. To avoid the spread of misinformation, HR should endeavour to ensure that employees aren’t sharing false information or gossiping about others. Companies must proceed carefully, taking care to ensure their policies for dealing with coronavirus are in place.

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 Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant and an international recruitment expert. He writes in his personal capacity.

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