Since the beginning of the pandemic crisis, the people2people team has been interviewing over 600 senior managers representing 356,000 employees across Australia and New Zealand to understand how employers were coping with the current situation. One response that stood out for us came from Ben Wheeler, Director at people2people Queensland, in his interview with Executive General Manager, People & Culture Adeline Hough from MS Queensland.
Here is a case study of how this organisation handled the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their workforce.
About MS Queensland
MS Queensland is a non-profit organisation of about 300 staff which exists to help people living with MS (multiple sclerosis) and other progressive neurological conditions. MS Queensland’s vision is a world free from MS and its devastating impact.
For 60+ years, MS Queensland has sought to help people living with MS get the best out of life; to advocate for change and to search for a cure. MS Queensland provides tailored services including:
specialist disability accommodation,
neurological physiotherapy and exercise therapy, and
MSQ’s COVID-19 response was initiated early, just as alert levels started rising in Queensland. Due to the diversity of the business and state-wide workforce, MS Queensland immediately stood up a COVID-19 Working Group (WG) lead by the Executive General Manager of People and Culture. With representatives from across the business, this group has been instrumental in ensuring a coordinated and well thought out approach across all services and sites.
Key COVID-19 workforce risks
Business continuity, particularly in their frontline 24/7 disability accommodations sites
Infection control and sufficient PPE
Impact of school closures on a predominantly female frontline workforce
Historically high turnover rates in frontline services
Increasing demand for frontline support workers and limited supply in the market
Impending flu season and traditionally higher winter absenteeism
Staff wellbeing over time
As articulated so well by Marcus Engeman’s recent article Psychological Safety - the "Special Sauce" for high performance, MS Queensland also looked to the work of Maslow and the importance of meeting the physiological (where possible), safety, and social needs of staff in the first instance.
"We knew that if we took care our people, the rest would follow," said Adeline Hough.
Make sure the basic needs of staff are met (as best MSQ can)
Make sure staff feel safe
Make sure staff stay connected
Here’s a sample of what MSQ has done so far…
Stabilised its workforce
MS Queensland fed its front-line workforce (i.e. provided free meals for supported accommodation staff) when grocery items were in short supply and anxiety was high regarding community exposure. Importantly, these provide meals were sourced from local community caterers who were struggling for business at this time.
A targeted communication campaign reassuring staff of their job security, their safety coming to work, the PPE available to them, and connecting them to leaders.
Enabled its workforce
Built a COVID-19 Sharepoint site with tailored resources and information, including easy automated workflows for reporting suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, and easy feedback mechanisms.
Built a working from home App and automated working from home tools to ensure safety, assist with contract tracing, and help with equipment inventory tracking.
Extended services to telehealth offerings to customers
Education sessions on how to use technology (e.g. Teams) for business continuity.
Grew its workforce
Bulk recruitment campaigns and employed additional front line staff
Set up key agency partnerships to anticipate workforce gaps
Implemented a new learning management system to onboard and train staff quicker, and more efficiently track compliance. This has been critical in ensuring workforce can keep pace with changing COVID-19 safety requirements. It also minimises the potential exposure to infection associated with previously face-to-face run training.
Kept its workforce connected
Undertook wellbeing pulse checking surveys, asking staff what MS Queensland was doing well and what they wanted.
Delivered a wellbeing program aligned to what staff wanted e.g. implemented fun team activities, online trivia hosted by the CEO, online Executive Q&A sessions, Christmas in July events, local team activities, etc.
Used a marketing approach to communicate key messages of reassurance, showcasing team successes and fun events, as well as a targeted communication strategy for managers with clear expectations set.
Continue to plan for further workforce impacts
Offer free flu vaccinations to all staff (not mandatory in MSQ's sector)
Structure staff rosters to minimise staff movements between disability accommodation services
Use historical and market workforce data to project staffing impacts and to scenario plan
Strengthen partnerships with other service providers and agencies in anticipation potential workforce shortages
Continue to build further wellbeing programs
Extended Employee Assistance Programs to the family members of staff
Results so far – the highlights
No outbreaks of COVID-19 at any of their sites
No staff redundancies as a result of COVID-19
Reduced turnover in frontline services to under 2% (from previous 6 month average of 4.4%)
Over 81% of staff feel that MSQ has supported their health wellbeing ‘well’ or ‘very well’.
More than 90% of staff said their manager had checked on their wellbeing.
Over 83% of staff feel confident raising safety concerns with their managers.
Over 80% reported participation in wellbeing and fun activities statewide.
85% of staff said that the information received and performance of MS Queensland during the COVID-19 exceeded their expectations.
Staff rate MSQ’s overall performance during COVID-19 at 4.45/5 stars
Implementation of a new online learning management system has saved MSQ an estimated $30k in 2 months. To reduce the exposure to infection, MSQ has also been able to have staff complete 617hrs of training online from home rather than face-to-face.