The coronavirus pandemic is a health crisis and human tragedy which has affected thousands across the globe.
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How Kenyan employers are supporting their employees to navigate COVID stress

The coronavirus pandemic is a health crisis and human tragedy which has affected thousands across the globe.

As a result, economies are charged with providing a response to the pandemic. Some of the challenges countries are faced with include debt increase, oil demand decline, and rising unemployment.

In this light, Mercer, a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investment held a webinar to discuss what this pandemic could mean for Kenya’s economic landscape.

According to Francis Omanyala, Associate Consultant at Mercer, Africa has unique challenges in its fight against COVID-19.

However, it is crucial that organizations better understand some of these issues and redirect their energies to unlocking some of the available opportunities.

During the webinar, one of the speakers, Lesiba Mothata, Head: Strategic Clients, Alexander Forbes explained that for countries like Kenya, there have been a number of constructive outcomes. One of which is Kenya’s new tax policy that provides full income tax relief for persons earning below the equivalent of $225 per month.

Agriculture and climate also remain top of mind in Kenya, alongside opportunities provided by digital money, NextGen connectivity and tourism.

Lastly, considering Africa is well on its way to adopting technological advancements, Kenyan regulators might be encouraged to expedite the commercial use of 5G technology to enhance faster mobile connectivity.

 How employers in Kenya are supporting their employees?

Despite having a strong youthful population, who, according to research may be less vulnerable to COVID-19, Africa poses a large threat when compared globally, due to weak healthcare systems and testing capabilities.

There is also the challenge of other existing medical battles such as HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Ebola and Malaria. Hence, organizations are tasked with supporting employee wellbeing and safety.

Francis Omanyala stated that in Kenya, there have been cash donations and support from the government, private sector and individuals totalling 1.3billion Kenyan shillings.

Some of the other business responses to COVID-19 have been through HMO and government initiatives. These include telehealth assistance, facilitating drug deliveries and donations to health workers’ funds.

He also shed some light on other measures taken by the Kenyan government in the wake of the pandemic.

“There have been sensitization programmes geared towards educating people on how to protect themselves. Kenyatta National Hospital has also been expanded in terms of bed capacity, while Kenya closed borders with Tanzania and Somalia to curb the spread of the virus,” he said.

Mercer’s employee support survey also looks at the ways through which companies in Africa are supporting their employees during this outbreak.

For instance, 54 per cent are allowing employees with children to determine their own work schedule while 43 per cent established a private COVID-19 hotline for employees in order to encourage self-disclosure.

The new normal

Going forward from the current reality, many concerns come to mind. What will the new working environment look like? How should companies approach things during this period? Does my insurance at the moment have an adequate cover for COVID-19? etc.

The first step would be for employers to rethink their strategies and working conditions. “We need to be innovative in terms of the solutions we provide for employees while reviewing our strategies ahead of returning to the office.

“We also need to consider how best to balance between continuously supporting our employees and understanding their needs as we grow our businesses,” said Francis Omanyala.

Additionally, one of the most important things for employers would be hygiene, but in the meantime, HR has to redefine policies like remote working and provide internet access

Secondly, there is a need for organizations to better understand various workforces and how best to move things along. For instance, industries like manufacturing may require different approaches when compared to the financial services sector.

Productivity and mental health is another crucial factor to consider. In order for organizations to maintain a healthy balance, there is a need for compassion and empathy from leaders.

Also, considering certain administrative activities may be tedious or unnecessary during this period, other means of managing and reviewing performance should be adopted.

Overall, there shouldn’t be a rush. The process of resuming regular work activities need to be phased.

Employers may also want to consider enhancing financial support to employees with additional innovative solutions which are emerging during these trying times.

The first 4 points from Mercer’s 10 point Employer Guide are very important, particularly as economies have started getting back to work.

This includes employee communication, onsite/ near-site clinic protocols and other support mechanisms. For employees in Kenya who will be returning from heavily infected areas, there needs to be regular testing and other appropriate measures to protect the entire workforce.

While COVID-19 may hit Kenya hard, opportunities abound by identifying the sectors with high growth rates alongside more efforts in the up-skilling of labour, the country will be better positioned to cushion the impact of the pandemic.