Coronavirus, Oil, and Employment
In December of 2019, news reports started emerging of a virus spreading in the capital of China’s Hubei province, Wuhan. The virus, which would eventually come to be commonly referred to as the coronavirus, has now spread across almost every country across the globe and infected hundreds of thousands. In its wake, the virus has disrupted almost every major industry, causing shutdowns of businesses, schools, and even entire countries. One major industry that has experienced the effects of the virus has been the oil & gas industry.
What Exactly is the This Virus?
While typically referred to as the coronavirus, the virus presently causing problems is one out of a group of viruses that are known as coronaviruses. Previous coronaviruses that have caused major disruptions across the globe include the SARs virus outbreak in 2003 and the MERS virus outbreak in 2012. The technical name for this particular one is SARS-CoV-2. It is responsible for causing the disease COVID-19 which has been particularly harmful to the elderly and people with underlying respiratory conditions.
As fear of the spread of the virus increased, one of the first signs of a financial downturn showed on February 21, 2020. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 200 points that day, beginning what would be a continued downfall through March where it would drop to its lowest levels since January of 2017. During this time, one of the major industries that have been hit hard is oil & gas. The S&P Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Select Industry Index is down a little more than 75% from its 52-week high.
With countries all across the world initiating lockdowns and encouraging citizens to reduce travel, the demand for oil & gas has diminished significantly. The International Energy Agency (IEA) changed its demand expectations from an increase of 1,000,000 barrels per day to a decrease of 90,000 per day. This has led to a 40% decrease in the price of crude oil in a single month. As a result, the price of gasoline has begun to drop. According to AAA, the average price per gallon has fallen below $2. While this has been great for people still looking to go on road trips, it has not been great for the profit margin of companies involved in the sector and by extension, their employees
Unfortunately, even the low gas prices will not be helpful to a lot of citizens around the world. The coronavirus has led to decreases across multiple businesses leading to the inability of people to take advantage of the low prices.
What Can Employers Do During This Time?
During this time, employers across the board will face some very tough challenges. In addition to trying to make sure that the company stays financially stable so that operations may continue, the morale of employees is also essential to day-to-day operations. It is wise for employers to remember that employees may be in want of guidance. In addition to the concerns that your employees may have that they could potentially contract the virus, they may also have concerns in regard to their children or elderly relatives falling ill. These concerns are multiplied by the uncertainty arising as to what financial situation they may be thrust into if they are placed into quarantine or must take off work for an extended period of time.
While business is business, it is important to remember that employees are people and one thing that will go a long way with them during this time is to express to them that they matter. Communication is key in any relationship, including a business relationship. Frequent communication with employees about developments allows your employees to feel that they are involved, and that you care.
Be sure to update your employees on the policies relating to time off and leave. If there have been special changes in policy due to the outbreak, be sure to advise them. Encourage good health and safety practices at home and work. These should include encouraging employees to stay home when sick, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content, and partake in frequent handwashing. It is also a good practice to ensure that surfaces that are touched at a high frequency are cleaned thoroughly throughout the day. Be sure to make hand sanitizer readily available throughout the workplace as well.
Also be sure to inform your employees of the resources that are available to them such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). An EAP offers many services that both you and your employees might find beneficial during this extraordinary time in history. This is a time of high stress. Not only does stress have an effect on the physical and mental health of your employees, but it can also affect productivity. When employees are stressed, the ability to focus on the job at hand is reduced and productivity decreases. Mental health is essential to the success of your business. Mental health counseling services offered by an EAP program might be what some of your employees need. Something as simple as your employee being able to contact a licensed counselor who is available 24/7 by phone can go a long way in ensuring the mental health of your employees and thereby increasing productivity.
In addition to a number of free counseling sessions on various issues, EAPs provide services such as Medical Advocacy, which can help with things such as doctor referrals, and transportation to and from appointments. There is sometimes a Personal Assistant benefit, which is available 24/7 and can help with home grocery delivery, finding and scheduling a plumber or home repair company, and other professional services. For your hardworking employees, who continue to come to work, despite this pandemic. Every little bit helps. If they are overwhelmed between working full time and taking care of their families, EAP benefits can help ease the pressure, and whats more, these benefits not only apply to your employees, but their household members as well.
The average cost of an EAP benefit? No more than your average spend per year on K-Cup’s for the office. These programs are valuable to employees all year round, but particularly in times of uncertainty as we are facing today.
What Can Employees Do?
For employees, your worries are slightly different than those of your employer. Many of the same suggestions still apply however. As business slows down, you may have to deal with a reduction in hours or, in the worst case, layoffs. While state and federal governments are working to expand protections to employees by loosening regulations on unemployment, these things take time and finances in the interim may still become a potential issue. The same Employment Assistance Programs offer both legal and financial advice. This can include matters related to real estate, foreclosure prevention, and budgeting.
Communication with your company and understanding of your company’s policies is key. Understanding your rights under the law in regard to leave and unemployment is essential. Legal advice provided by one of a program may be able to assist in understanding what can be a complex subject. These programs also are able to provide medical advocacy. In an event that you become ill, they are able to provide referrals for doctors and specialists.
Interested in an EAP benefit for your team? Click Here