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Employers’ reactions to Omicron variant

Opinion & Analysis
Most employers thought everything was now normal and went back to old practices instead of embracing the new normal, and now a different reality is beginning to set in.

Emmanuel Zvada IT is only recently that I truly believed that uncertainty remains the only certainty in this world of coronavirus and its mutations.

Most employers thought everything was now normal and went back to old practices instead of embracing the new normal, and now a different reality is beginning to set in.

Crises normally bring out the best and worst of leaders as well as the best solutions. Organisations that did not learn from the previous waves will defiantly suffer in ignorance, while others will sail through this fourth wave.

The new Omicron variant

A few weeks ago, the World Health Organisation reported that a new, potentially-dangerous, coronavirus variant — Omicron — was detected in southern Africa and other countries.

Employers had plans to start normalising their working routines, but the Omicron changed that. It may also make vaccination mandatory.

Companies see the Omicron variant as the latest unknown in a pandemic full of shocks. With Omicron emerging as the new year approaches, office reopening is an impossibility.

There is little known information about Omicron as researchers study its transmissibility, severity and whether vaccinations will stand up to the variant.

Zimbabwe case study

Zimbabwe identified its first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, a day after announcing a 10-day mandatory quarantine for all travellers entering the country on December 1, 2021.

Cases have risen considering that we are close to South Africa and people are travelling in and out illegally.

Business leaders are getting a dosage of crisis management again so that they navigate this deadly fourth wave pandemic.

Companies that had already put systems and processes in place to work from home will have no challenges except to continue encouraging their employees to be fully vaccinated.

What does this mean for employers?

Organisations must demonstrate a well-oiled business continuity strategy and the ability to respond to new information and challenges.

Positive and effective leadership helps navigate crises and forge ahead in moments of uncertainty like these.

Leaders should act on three essentials which are: Clarifying purpose, supporting stakeholders, and bolstering emotional and organisational resilience especially during the fourth wave likely to last until 2022.

Update vaccination policy

As vaccine programmes continue rollout across Zimbabwe and other countries, many employers may not be sure how to handle the issue of vaccine hesitancy and resistance in their workplace, only those that have policies in place have an edge.

Update any existing vaccination policy to take account of boosters. If vaccination is a compulsory requirement, for example, consider extending this requirement to boosters (although employers should keep in mind the legal risks involved in forcing staff to be vaccinated).

Minimising exposure to Omicron variant at work

The implementation of safe work practices to limit exposure to COVID-19 at work requires assessing the risks and implementing control measures.

This entails that organisations should put in place control measures to eliminate risks and if this is not possible, minimise employee exposure.

Reduce, as far as possible, physical contact between workers (for example during meetings or breaks).

Isolate workers who can carry out their tasks alone and who do not require specialised equipment or machinery.

More-so, if possible, ask vulnerable workers to work from home (older people and those with chronic conditions).

Keeping up with the latest developments on the new variant

One simple way employers can help ease the uncertainty around the new variant is to stop the spread of misinformation by staying on top of the most current COVID-19 developments.

More-so, employers should provide accurate information from established and reputable sources regarding vaccinations. Consultations should be made regularly with local healthcare officials and stay up to date with this information for employees’ benefit.

Continuous communication is key

Good leaders should continually communicate so that followers do not grope in the dark.

This will obviate  rumours especially during a crisis. People are obviously nervous about the implications of the virus, and it is essential to keep them engaged, informed and safe.

If you do not provide information, guidance, and direction even if it is the same as what you provided last week — people tend to make up stories.

When people aren’t clear on what to do, they do what others are doing, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Successful companies show a higher frequency of interaction and more direct rapport between leadership and teams.

Create a safe working environment

As a business owner, the most important thing you can do is to ensure your employees are safe.

People matter most, hence you have to ensure your employees are safe always.

Good leaders protect their employees.

In times of crisis, remember that your internal stakeholders are just as important as your external stakeholders.

Proactive measures, such as providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitisation products, should be taken.

Sickness prevention measures in the workplace

Whenever there are communicable disease outbreaks, employers must take precautions to keep the disease from spreading at the workplace.

It is recommended that employers have written policies and response plans for communicable diseases.

More-so, employers must order employees to stay at home if they have signs or symptoms of a communicable disease that can be transmitted at the workplace.

When possible, employers can consider allowing employees to work remotely and ask employees to provide medical proof before returning to work.

The time is now for employers to become part of the solution in ending the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is not going to end soon.

Consequently, employers and their workers must continue to adjust during this wave which is likely to be with us for some time.

  • Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant and international recruitment expert