TORONTO — It’s tough to see any sort of silver lining from the past couple of weeks, but here’s one, courtesy of ACTA President Wendy Paradis: “Never before has the value of working with a travel agent been clearer, and in the future people will remember this.”
Offering a lifeline of information and strategies to agents, ACTA yesterday held a live COVID-19 Update webinar with a special focus on HR strategies for owners and managers navigating never-before-seen challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus outbreak and its fallout “is without a doubt the most widespread crisis to face Canadians in several decades,” said Paradis.
“We have heard from you. We know you are hurting,” said Paradis.
In these extremely difficult times, she said now is the time for agents to shine, offering “knowledge, expertise and comfort. The personal touch and a friendly voice is invaluable.”
Paradis outlined everything ACTA is doing to lobby on agents’ behalf, including recommendations on how the government can quickly support travel agencies and travel agents with employment programs and financial aid. Full details about what ACTA is doing can be found here.
Yesterday’s webinar’s guest speaker, Corina Sibley, Managing Director, HR a la carte, touched on everything from employee outreach to temporary layoff situations to mental health. Here’s a roundup…
. Agency owners and managers should be reviewing all of their health and safety protocols. “How can you help take care of your employees? This is a stressful environment for them and a scary environment for them.” Don’t be afraid to let them know you don’t necessarily have all the answers – “nobody does” said Sibley – but stress to employees that your response to the situation will be informed by clear guidelines and official sources.
. If employees do get sick, and potentially with the coronavirus, privacy is key. “Privacy is really important for someone going on coronavirus leave,” said Sibley. “Don’t share that information unless the person gives permission.”
. If employees show up with symptoms, “you can separate them from other employees and ask them to leave and seek medical assistance. That’s not discriminatory” because you’re protecting the health of all of your employees, she said. Employers also need to keep in mind that there are plenty of other conditions, like asthma or seasonal allergies, that have the same symptoms.
. Social distancing can be difficult for some agencies in busy locations, for example, for agencies in shopping mall environments. Or any tight quarters. “Spread out more. Using empty boardrooms as work spaces. Even staggering work shifts may help.”
. Temporary layoffs are unfortunately becoming a reality already for some employers. Options include layoffs for more more than 13 weeks in any period of 20 consecutive weeks. Other options include Work-Sharing programs in conjunction with Service Canada.
. Keeping employee morale up is key. “Employees have increased workloads, they have worries and concerns,” said Sibley. Mental health issues can loom large at times like these. “Be mindful of anxiety. The impact of the coronavirus on finances is a huge weight for people right now.
. There’s so much information out there right now about coronavirus and its toll, “it’s like drinking from a firehose,” says Sibley. As many host agencies and consortiums already do, a curated list of news and information resources can be helpful for agents. It can be heartening for employees knowing their employers have put together this news roundup for them, she adds. “They know it’s real and relevant for them, and that’s a comfort.”