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5 Things Employers Should Do Before Next Year

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Mercifully we are nearing the end of the wackiest year in our lifetime. The virus, the hurricanes, the changes to work rules, the oddest election season in recent memory…I almost want to say “what’s next” – but I don’t dare! We are nowhere near close to where we thought we would be at this time last year. But we are where we are.

As we prepare to say good riddance to 2020, employers and HR professionals have some important work to do before the end of the year. Taking the time now to close out one year and prepare for the next will get us started on the right foot. Here are five things you should do in the next 30 days.

1. Employee Engagement and Appreciation

Take time to recognize the hard work, struggles and accomplishments of your employees. It hasn’t been easy trying to maintain a status quo, or even to survive in our companies. But we are near the end and it’s time to celebrate (in a physically distanced manner) or at least spend some time reflecting on what we have all gone through.

A note of thanks, a gift card, lunch sent to everyone’s home. There are many different options available and now is the time to think outside the box and truly say thank you to your employees. It’s also a great time to ask them about how they would like to start next year. How do they want to tackle the challenges of 2021? Getting – and using – their input will certainly help as you roll into January ready to take on the world.

2. PTO / Vacation Time Clean Up

An unintended consequence of employees working from home may be their lack of use of their accrued PTO. If your company has a policy of “use it or lose it,” have you evaluated how many hours employees may be losing at the end of the year? If you have many employees losing PTO hours, there may be options available to you.

One option is to allow additional rollover to the following year. This lets employees finally be able to take that family vacation they have had to put off in 2020 using last year’s PTO. You could set a deadline for the end of the first quarter, the end of June, or allow it to rollover for the entire year.

Another option is to payout all or part of the unused PTO. Of course, not all companies are in a financial position to be able to do this. A final option could be to encourage your employees to use the remaining PTO for staycations prior to the end of this year. Maintaining staffing levels could be a challenge, but it is better than a bunch of upset employees come January. Whatever you decide, put it in writing and be sure everyone understands the plan.

3. Benefit Year-End Deadlines

Now is also the time to review your benefit programs and determine which ones have resets at the end of the year. FSA accounts and dental and vision plans often have benefits that start over on January first, or in the case of FSA's, monies put into the account may be forfeited if not used prior to the end of the year. Health insurance deductibles are also probably resetting.

With canceled doctor appointments and concerns over COVID, medical procedures may have been put off. Remind your employees of these deadlines and resets now, so when January rolls around they don't look to you and ask why you didn't let them know.

4. Stress and Mental Health

December can be a stressful month for many people. Whether it's the first holiday after the loss of loved ones, the stress of dealing with year-end commitments, or general fatigue after having gone through 2020, mental health issues frequently surface this month. If you have an EAP program, remind your employees of how to access it and the benefits available to them.

It's also a good time to remind your managers about how to deal with stressful situations and employees' concerns. One size doesn't fit all, and we need to connect with each employee where they are at this time. There are many resources available to employees even if you don't have an employee assistance program. Have a list of the programs in your area available for the employees and be sure they can access this list without having to ask for it. Make it available on your intranet, in the break room, or send it out to the employees proactively. Even if they need the services, they may not ask for it out of concerns for their privacy. Best practice is to not make them ask for it, but rather ensure they already have it.

5. Holiday Travel

As we approached the last two weeks of December, schools take their winter break. With Christmas and other holidays happening in rapid succession, employees may be traveling to other cities or states to visit family or take a vacation. Let your employees know now what policies you may have relating to COVID-19, and any testing or quarantine requirements. The last thing we want to do is surprise employees upon their return with new rules put in place to protect the employees. Of course, be sure any policies are consistent with current local, state, and federal regulations.

Maybe in a few years, we will be able to look back at 2020 with memories other than coronavirus concerns and the hassles we have had to endure. But for now, all we can do is deal with the situation we are in and find the best strategy to get through it.

Here's to you and the rest of 2020, may it be blissfully uneventful.

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