If you’ve been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may look forward to rejoining your colleagues in the offices deserted by your company earlier this year when you started working from home. According to a survey conducted by The Conference Board, about 35 percent of U.S. companies don’t know when they will allow employees back into the office. The survey also concluded that about 39 percent of companies plan to reopen offices by early 2021, while 13 percent of offices have remained open throughout the pandemic.
While decisions to reopen are being made by individual companies that see benefits of staff working collaboratively and creatively in person that many workers miss, and worry that continued lockdowns could damage the economy and society, the return to the office isn’t without risk when the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb.
Returning to the office will be a big change for millions of employees who have gotten used to working from home without long commutes and a daily separation from family during strictly structured work hours. Companies need to prepare for reopening offices even if they don’t plan to call workers back until 2021. Every organization is going to be different in the response needed to get offices back open, depending upon who owns the building, office size, and whether employees are likely to use public transportation.
Office building employers, owners and managers, and operations specialists may find useful guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prepare for the time when employees return to work by creating a safe and healthy workplace for workers and clients. The following list is an abbreviated version of the CDC’s recommendations to protect your staff and others while slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Check the building to see if it’s ready for occupancy.
- Evaluate the building and its mechanical and life safety systems to determine if the building is ready for occupancy.
- Ensure that ventilation systems in your facility operate properly.
- Increase circulation of outdoor air by opening windows and doors if possible, and using fans.
- To minimize the risk of waterborne diseases, take steps to ensure that all water systems and features and water-using devices are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown.
Identify how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work.
- Conduct a thorough hazard assessment of the workplace to identify potential workplace hazards that could increase risks for COVID-19 transmission.
- Identify work and common areas where employees could have close contact (within 6 feet) with others—for example, meeting rooms, break rooms, the cafeteria, locker rooms, check-in areas, waiting areas, and routes of entry and exit.
- Include all employees in communication plans—for example, management staff, utility employees, relief employees, and janitorial and maintenance staff.
- If contractors are employed in the workplace, develop plans to communicate with contracting companies about changes to work processes and requirements for the contractors to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in your facility.
Develop hazard controls to reduce transmission among workers.
- Modify or adjust seats, furniture, and workstations to maintain social distancing of 6 feet between employees.
- Install transparent shields or other physical barriers to separate employees and visitors where social distancing is not an option.
- Arrange chairs in reception or other communal seating areas by turning, draping, spacing, or removing chairs to maintain social distancing.
- Use methods to physically separate employees in all areas of the building, including work areas and other areas such as meeting rooms, break rooms, parking lots, entrance and exit areas, and locker rooms.
- Replace high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serving items. Encourage staff to bring their own water to minimize use and touching of water fountains or consider installing no-touch activation water fountains.
- Consider taking steps to improve ventilation in the building, in consultation with an HVAC professional, based on local environmental conditions and ongoing community transmission in the area.
- Ensure exhaust fans in restroom facilities are functional and operating at full capacity when the building is occupied.
Change the way people work.
Employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19, should be encouraged to notify their supervisor, stay home, and follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until they meet the criteria to discontinue home isolation, in consultation with their healthcare provider. At the office, the employer needs to:
- Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after anyone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in the workplace.
- Consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks of employees before they enter the work site.
- Stagger shifts, start times, and break times to reduce the number of employees in common areas such as screening areas, break rooms, and locker rooms.
- Follow the CDC’s guidance for cleaning and disinfecting to develop, follow, and maintain a plan to perform regular cleanings of surfaces.
- Give employees enough time to wash their hands and access to soap, clean water, and paper towels.
- Discourage handshaking, hugs, and fist bumps.
- Encourage the use of outdoor seating areas and social distancing for any small-group activities such as lunches, breaks, and meetings.
- Use no-touch trash cans.
- Remind employees and clients to wear cloth face coverings in public settings and avoid touching their eyes, noses, and mouths.
The magazine Financial Management encourages employers to find a balance when planning to reopen the office and offers some key considerations, including the following ones, to keep in mind when considering reopening the office.
Allow choices and review policies.
Employers must be aware that some employees or someone they live with will have health conditions which make them particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, meaning a return to the office remains unlikely for many months.
Organizations also may find that some employees have discovered that they enjoy working from home and don’t want to come back into the office. The optimal situation is likely to be to give employees the choice of coming into the office or continuing to work from home. Coaxing any staff working from home to return to the office may prove a challenge, but for high-risk employees, those with vulnerable family members, or ones with children doing remote learning, going back to the workplace simply is not an option at present.
Support employees who work at home.
Companies need to ensure that staff have the right technology and resources to continue working from home. More firms are now more likely to consider flexible working requests than before the pandemic struck.
Policies covering sick leave, health benefits, and paid time off also will need to be reviewed so that they adequately protect staff who contract COVID-19 or are required to self-isolate.
Plan for possible outbreaks.
Companies already have plans in place to evacuate offices in case of fires, earthquakes, or other disasters but now they need to add health emergencies to the list. If an employee develops COVID-19 symptoms in the workplace, know how to get them safely out of the building. Companies may need to close a floor or an entire building, before deep-cleaning it, track and trace all staff in contact with the employee, and cover the costs for COVID-19 tests and resulting treatment if an employee tests positive.
With so many changes envisioned for your return to work, at InsureYouKnow.org, you can keep track of modifications in company policies for your health care coverage and paid time off, technology purchases for which you may be reimbursed by your company, and records of COVID-19 testing that may be requested by your employer or when you travel.
Take time out on October 10, designated as World Mental Health Day, to become aware of mental health issues around the world and in your own surroundings, especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol, and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.
As the world’s population has witnessed from afar and has experienced close-up since earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a stressful time for many people. Though necessary to prevent illness and loss of life due to COVID-19, public health recommendations, such as social distancing, business and school closures, shelter-in-place orders, and wearing face coverings in public, have made people feel isolated, lonely, and financially distressed. Fear and anxiety about the rapidly spreading coronavirus have caused strong emotions in adults, teenagers, and children. Finding healthy ways to cope with the stress you are experiencing may help you, the people you care about, and your community become stronger.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on your background, your social support from family or friends, your financial situation, your health and emotional background, the community you live in, and many other factors. Stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can cause the following:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on.
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
- New or increased use of tobacco and alcohol and other substances.
You are not alone if you are experiencing any of these reactions to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Symptoms of stress did not originate with the current pandemic; John Cassian, a monk and theologian who wrote in the early 5th century, referred to the emotion of what we are collectively feeling today as “acedia.” A strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate make up the paradoxical emotion of acedia. In reaction to physical and social isolation, the symptoms of acedia are the seizing up or freezing of feelings, reactions that were fairly common among medieval monks shut away in monasteries.
You may feel like you are living in a monastery because your way of life has changed drastically and consequently your emotional health may be challenged. You need to take care of your mental health, an important part of your overall health and wellbeing, that affects how you think, feel, and act. It may also affect how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices during an emergency. People with pre-existing mental health conditions or substance use disorders may be particularly vulnerable in an emergency. Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior in a way that influences their ability to relate to others and function each day. These conditions may be situational or long-lasting. People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and contact their health care providers if new or worsening symptoms develop.
The new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues may be taking a toll on your mental health. Adapting to lifestyle changes such as these, and managing the fear of contracting the virus and worrying about people close to you who are particularly vulnerable, are challenging for everyone. They can be particularly difficult for people with mental health conditions.
Fortunately, there are lots of things that we can do to look after our own mental health and to help others who may need some extra support and care.
Here are tips and advice that you may find useful.
- Keep informed. Listen to advice and recommendations from your national and local authorities. Follow trusted news channels, such as local and national TV and radio, and keep up-to-date with the latest news from reliable sources.
- Minimize newsfeeds. Try to reduce how much you watch, read or listen to news that makes you feel anxious or distressed. Seek the latest information at specific times of the day, once or twice a day if needed.
- Have a routine. Keep up with daily routines as far as possible, or make new ones. Get up and go to bed at similar times every day. Keep up with personal hygiene. Eat healthy meals at regular times. Exercise regularly. Allocate time for working and time for resting.
- Make time to do things you enjoy. Pursue a favorite hobby or start a new one. Engage in exercising, collecting items, gardening, reading, writing, cooking, baking, drawing and painting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, or doing other forms of arts and crafts.
- Keep in contact with others. Regular contact—by phone, email, text, live chat, or old-fashioned letter and note writing—is important for you and other people you care about to feel less isolated and more appreciated.
- Limit alcohol and drug use. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or don’t drink alcohol at all. Don’t start drinking alcohol if you have not drunk alcohol before. Avoid using alcohol and drugs as ways of dealing with fear, anxiety, boredom, and social isolation.
- Be mindful of screen time. Be aware of how much time you spend in front of a screen every day. Make sure that you take regular breaks from on-screen activities.
- Balance video games with off-line activities. While video games can be a way to relax, it can be tempting to spend much more time on them than usual when at home for long periods. Be sure to keep the right balance with off-line activities in your daily routine.
- Keep a positive social media presence. Use your social media accounts to promote positive and hopeful stories.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new complications for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. Take time on World Mental Health Day, and every other day of the year, to create a positive perspective on dealing with your stress levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you need to maintain prescriptions for your or family members’ health conditions, you can keep records at InsureYouKnow.org of prescribing physicians, the trade names and dosages of medicines, locations of pharmacies that fill your medications, the number of days supplied, and refill expiration dates.
If you had been carefully planning your retirement and thought that you had a few more years to accumulate a nest egg before you officially called it quits, you may be prompted during the COVID-19 pandemic, to shift gears and reevaluate your options.
Employees worldwide are enduring furloughs pending a rebound in the economy, permanent layoffs because of drastic downturns at their workplaces, or have decided not to return to a work environment that may expose them to COVID-19. If one of these, or another reason, has spurred you to consider or plan to retire sooner than you had anticipated, make sure your retirement income strategy is right for your current and future financial situation. You may want to consult a financial planner who can help you project and protect your retirement benefits while you decide when to retire.
Retirees with limited financial resources face numerous risks, including out-living their money, investment losses, unexpected health expenses, the unforeseen needs of family members, and even reductions in retirement benefits. Some workers, including teachers, restaurateurs, and healthcare providers, whose professions require close contact with others, have started withdrawing from the workforce earlier than they had planned because of challenges and concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has hit older workers hard. The unemployment rate among Americans age 55 and up reached a staggering 13.6 percent in April, up from just 2.6 percent in January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of August, the percentage had gone down to 7.7 percent but other data show that one in five Americans in their 60s has lost his job or has been furloughed due to COVID-19, according to the July 2020 Retirement Confidence Index by the financial technology company SimplyWise. Overall, 15 percent of Americans are now considering claiming Social Security benefits earlier than they had anticipated. One in five respondents who was laid off during the coronavirus pandemic is now planning to retire early.
If you can identify with these staggering statistics, take a deep breath and review the following suggestions to guide you to the finish line for a financially successful retirement.
Examine Expenses and Downsize
For many employees, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how fragile their financial security is. A recent survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education found that nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) Americans said that the COVID-19 crisis is causing stress on their personal finances. Americans who are not yet retired but whose finances have been impacted by the pandemic can use this time to review their expenses and reduce unnecessary spending. You’ll need to take inventory of your entire financial situation and determine how much cash will see you through retirement.
Take Stock of Resources and Make Adjustments
Evaluate what resources you have available. Make any necessary adjustments to savings and portfolio asset allocations, including your 401(k) or 403(b) accounts, pension plans from former or current employers, IRA accounts, and annuities as well as Social Security benefits based on your employment and age. For those who are eligible but not yet drawing Social Security payments, this is a good time to consider how to maximize your benefits.
Decide how much money you want to keep in stocks vs. bonds, based on your risk tolerance and financial goals. Keep in mind, most people need to maintain a stake in stocks, even in retirement, to get the long-term growth they need. But for those who prefer a more cautious strategy—and for older investors who have already amassed enough savings to afford a comfortable retirement—it may make sense to reduce the percentage you invest in stocks and increase your fixed-income holdings.
Rethink Withdrawal Rate
People in or nearing retirement need to review their withdrawal rate, and the pandemic has given new urgency to designing a safe withdrawal strategy. The 4 percent rule is the traditional rule of thumb for retirement withdrawals. You take out 4 percent of your portfolio in the first year, then increase that amount by the inflation rate in subsequent years. Studies show that this strategy can minimize your risk of running out of money over a 30-year retirement.
The article, “Don’t Let the Coronavirus Derail Your Retirement: How to Get Back on Track If Your 401(k) Has Taken a Hit,” published in the May 2020 issue of Consumer Reports advises retirees to consider skipping their required minimum distributions from their 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts that is permitted this year under the coronavirus relief package. If you can forgo those withdrawals, your portfolio will have more time to recover from losses.
Consider Taking Social Security Early
The longer you wait to claim Social Security benefits, the larger the payout you’re likely to receive. If you are at the full retirement age between 65 and 67 years old, you can claim benefits about 30 percent higher than if you take them early starting at age 62. By waiting until you’re 70 years old, the benefit amount would be another 32 percent higher than the amount you’d get at full retirement age.
But waiting isn’t always the best option and individuals need to be aware of how claiming benefits at different ages will impact their overall retirement strategies.
Evaluate Employment Opportunities
If you figure out that you don’t have enough currently saved for a comfortable retirement, consider remaining at or returning to work–even in a part-time position. Earning additional income and accumulating money in your retirement savings account will be beneficial if you can delay retirement and avoid unemployment. One of the most effective measures for protecting your finances is to amass an emergency fund that can cover three to six months of expenses—perhaps as much as a year if your job isn’t secure. That money should be kept in a safe, easily accessible account, which will spare you from having to dip into retirement funds or rely solely on credit cards for unexpected bills.
Once you have come to terms with a retirement date and a vision of a secure financial future, store copies of your decisions for portfolio changes, Social Security formulas, records of all of your 401 (k) or 403(b) accounts, pension plans, IRA accounts, annuities, and other investments at InsureYouKnow.org.
In 2020, Labor Day is celebrated on Monday, September 7. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this holiday is a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the United States. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated in 1882 in New York City. Three years later, the holiday had spread to other industrial centers of the country and began to represent the end of summer and the start of the back-to-school season. Although Labor Day is typically celebrated in cities and towns across the nation with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays, and other public gatherings, the manner and extent of America’s annual celebration to honor the American worker will be different this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A three-day holiday weekend this September may not signal a time to publicly celebrate for many Americans affected by high unemployment, shifting industry hiring patterns, and fundamental changes to the way they work and play amid the COVID-19 crisis. If you are unemployed, underemployed, or just ready for a change in your work circumstances, the following tips may increase your chances of finding a job under the current challenging labor market.
Review your resume and online professional presence. If it’s been a while since you’ve applied for a job, evaluate your resume to make sure it’s error-free, fully updated, and customized for each job for which you submit an application. Post your resume on your own website if you have one, and on online job boards or sites specific to your target industry. Consider adding work samples, links to any published work, or a video introduction to your resume. Use keywords that will yield results in search engine queries conducted by prospective employers. Keep your references informed about job leads and scheduled interviews so they will be ready to respond to requests for recommendations about your job performance and history.
Look in the right places for opportunities. Current hiring trends may include positions for freelancers and remote workers for which you may be eligible. You also should be willing to consider new industries where job opportunities have been stronger, such as technology and health care. Contact people in your network who are employed in favorable hiring industries and explain your interest and availability.
As companies move to remote work to fight the coronavirus pandemic and an increasing number of workers are being laid off or furloughed, you might be wondering if you should continue to send out resumes or just assume that no one is hiring for the foreseeable future. It’s true that economists are predicting a recession, but career experts advise to keep networking and applying, provided you change your approach to acknowledge these are uncertain times.
Join professional groups on Facebook and LinkedIn that offer a wide range of options with groups for a variety of professions. Make yourself visible to online groups by introducing topics or adding to conversations that allow you to demonstrate your expertise.
Figure out your strengths. Know your skills, your worth, and your passions – these are the things that help differentiate you, and allow you to thrive in the areas in which you’re most competitive. To address remote working conditions, emphasize your comfort and expertise with technology, including remote collaboration and communication programs you’ve used and endorse. A good job search is targeted in many ways, including knowing where you’ll be appreciated and in demand. Analyze job descriptions by listing each required skill and experience. Then consider whether you have that exact skill, if you have the skill but haven’t used it in a few years, or if you’re lacking the skill entirely. Apply that information to determine what you need to improve on to make yourself a better candidate when the job market picks up again.
Refresh your skills. Look into taking free or low-cost courses online or obtain certifications in a new skill that can complement your existing job path or lead to a new career. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many online learning options provide free or lower-priced educational programs and courses on professional development, leadership, and communication skills that allow you to continue working in another capacity while you complete your studies.
Check out free online course including MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), EdX classes with courses from MIT and Harvard, and free Microsoft training and tutorials. In addition to providing job announcements and company descriptions, TheMuse.com links to online courses “that’ll boost your skills and get you ahead.” Learn to use remote communication and collaboration programs like Slack, Zoom, Skype, the G-Suite, and Dropbox that can be learned and applied quickly.
Rely on others to help in your job search. In addition to a source for new jobs, your network also can be the best place to advertise your job skills and career ambitions, seek help securing loans or financing to start a new business, assistance in applying or being admitted to a new career training or degree program, or to obtain introductions to others who might be able to help in a job search. Check out your high school or university’s alumni network to learn where your connections are working. When you reach out, ask for a short informational interview to learn more about their workplace, and during the conversation, ask whether there’s anyone else you could speak with at the company. Repeat this process until you’ve spoken to someone in the department you think is the best fit.
During an economic slowdown, it’s important to focus on what you can control—by improving your skills and reaching out to your network, you can lay the groundwork now so that when the crisis is over you have opened doors and rekindled relationships.
Project yourself on Labor Day 2021. Pending the development and implementation of a coronavirus vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic may be over within the next year. Analyze your need to overhaul your career or to take gig jobs or other freelance work if you’ve been laid off and are facing overwhelming debt and unemployment for an unforeseeable time. If possible, don’t make dramatic job changes or career decisions that can impact you for years to come. If you can determine where you want to be when COVID-19 is over, you can successfully direct your job search. Although companies might not be hiring in 2020, they will keep you in mind if you continue to build relationships and share your ideas with them until they do start hiring.
At InsureYouKnow.org, you can store your current and previous resumes, legal and contractual agreements pertaining to your employment, and work-related health insurance policies, especially if conditions and coverages have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The word hurricane comes from the Taino Native American word, hurucane, meaning evil spirit of the wind. An Atlantic hurricane or tropical storm is a tropical cyclone that forms in the Atlantic Ocean. In the Pacific Ocean, hurricanes are generally known as typhoons and in the Indian Ocean they are called tropical cyclones.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that as many as 25 named storms—twice the average number—will occur in 2020 to present an extremely active season that began on June 1 and ends November 30 with more frequent, longer, and stronger storms in the Northern Atlantic Ocean.
Storms get names once they have sustained wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour. NOAA anticipates that 2020 could deliver a total of 19 to 25 named storms. That would put this year in league with 2005, which experienced more than two dozen named storms including Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. Each year, only 21 storm names are designated because the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used. The first hurricane of the year is given a name beginning with the letter “A.” The list of names selected for 2020 storms starts with “Arthur” and ends with “Wilfred.”
If all the allotted names are used, the National Hurricane Center will use the Greek alphabet for additional names. This has only happened one time on record—in 2005 when the Atlantic Ocean experienced 28 named storms.
“We are now entering the peak months of the Atlantic hurricane season, August through October,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said in a recent news teleconference. “Given the activity we have seen so far this season, coupled with the ongoing challenges that communities face in light of COVID-19, now is the time to organize your family plan and make necessary preparations.”
FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Ready website provides checklists to help you put a plan together, consider specific needs in your household, download and fill out a family emergency plan, and to practice your plan with your family/household.
In planning for hurricanes and in dealing with outcomes of storm damage, you’ll also need to review your insurance coverage to make sure it matches your needs. Hurricanes provide little advance notice of their arrival, and as landfall approaches, insurance companies may temporarily suspend new coverage and coverage changes.
An insurance representative can review your policy, explain limits and deductibles, and help you identify coverage gaps. “You should ask your representative for tips on hurricane risk mitigation that may lower your insurance premiums and better protect your property,” says Tom Woods, assistant vice president of property underwriting for USAA.
Insurance Information Institute (III) website shares precautionary measures you can take to protect your home as well as your business from destructive storms. Don’t wait until a hurricane watch is issued, because it may already be too late to take certain recommended precautions, including reviewing your insurance policies.
III also offers a hurricane season insurance checklist that can help you understand your coverage and whether it’s adequate to repair or rebuild your home and to replace your belongings. Keep in mind that your homeowners insurance covers the cost of temporary repairs for hurricane damage, as well as reasonable additional living expenses over and above your normal living expenses if you have to relocate.
However, your homeowners policy doesn’t cover flood damage, so you may want to consider looking into flood insurance. If you live by the coast, you may also need a separate policy for protection against wind and wind-blown water damage. Check for wind-damage exclusions, and if wind damage isn’t covered by your standard policy, buy one from your state’s insurance program. In hurricane-prone states, for instance Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, some standard home insurance policies won’t pay for windstorm damage. So, if you want coverage, you need to buy an extra windstorm insurance policy in addition to your normal home insurance policy. In this case all wind damage would fall under this policy instead of your traditional homeowners policy.
After reviewing and revising insurance coverage with your insurance professional for your home, car, and business, store your updated insurance policies at InsureYourKnow.org where they will be readily available if a hurricane comes calling and wreaks havoc on printed versions of policies kept in your home or office.