As the Covid-19 outbreak worsens, many staffing firms are scrambling to protect their workers and deal with the impact that has been felt so far. Companies in some sectors have already seen client companies cut back, while some healthcare staffing firms have seen an increase in demand for their services.

The magnitude of Covid-19’s impact remains unknown both in human terms as well as to the economy. Some fear it could lead to recession if not brought under control in the short term.

“It’s uncertain when there’s going to be meaningful control of this outbreak, so the situation demands continued vigilance in preparation,” says Gary Burnison, president, CEO and executive director, at Korn Ferry.

Korn Ferry has limited internal meetings and office visits in response to the threat, Burnison said in a conference call with analysts. Some employees are working from home, and the Los Angeles-headquartered company has also closed some offices.

Many companies are moving to get a handle on the situation. Guidelines for preparing workplaces for Covid-19 were released March 9 by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Employers who have not prepared for pandemic events should prepare themselves and their workers as far in advance as possible of potentially worsening outbreak conditions,” according to OSHA.

First Responders

Staffing firms are among those on the front lines when it comes to dealing with the outbreak.

Rickey Green, CEO of Power Personnel Inc., a San Jose, California-headquartered healthcare staffing firm, says his company is getting internal workers set up to work remotely, updating sick-leave polices and is working to do more remote interviews.

Green said clients are also gearing up for the virus.

“We are actually seeing a spike in client needs in the initial phase of this Covid-19,” Green says. For example, the company is providing multiple hospitals with screeners to meet and greet people entering their facilities. They aim to identify visitors who may be at risk.

More demand from hospitals is coming in other areas as well, including for janitorial staff and food service staff.

And for their part, some hospitals are also asking nonclinical administrative staff to work remotely and there are more restrictions on nonessential people entering hospitals.

Green says his company is also collaborating with clients and providing workforce solutions to prepare them as Covid-19 worsens, so they aren’t caught in a bind with lack of staff.

“We see ourselves as one of the first responders to providing community protection as healthcare staffing agencies; we also see it more as a community service helping the community by placing staff,” Green says.

Staffing executive Roy Fazio is educating his temporary workers on the impact of Covid-19. Fazio, is co-owner of The Protocall Group, a staffing firm headquartered in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and chairperson of the Affiliated Staffing Group, an industry network group of noncompeting staffing firms.

His company has already passed information on Covid-19 along to workers from the state of New Jersey with educational information as well as an 800 number. In addition, the Group has scheduled a meeting next Tuesday to discuss the virus and its impact.

Separately, the outbreak has some companies taking a look at their products and services. Therapy staffing firm Therapy Source is putting a focus on its Theraweb product that provides online therapy staff to work with students.

“This is an opportunity to help many of the schools out there that are going to be closing, but still need to be providing therapy to their students,” says Therapy Source CEO Joshua Cartagenova. The Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania-based company provides therapy staffing for K-12 schools, and has been offering online staffing in addition to face-to-face since 2008.

Economic Effects

Covid-19 came as a surprise to all businesses, with things moving smoothly until it broke out.

ManpowerGroup Inc. had found the US hiring outlook stable with 23% of employers planning to increase hiring in its Q2 Employment Outlook Survey. But the survey upon which the report was based took place in January before the outbreak really picked up steam. Presently, it’s too early to tell the full extent of its impact, the company reported in its March 10 release of the data.

In addition, Covid-19 is stoking recession fears.

Two possible scenarios for the Covid-19 situation were outlined by Gad Levanon, head of The Conference Board Labor Markets Institute in an article for CNN Business. In the first, the virus fades away relatively soon, and the labor market is not likely to see major layoffs outside of the most affected industries. Under the second, the coronavirus persists, which could cause a recession.

The disease has some firms feeling unprepared as well.

A survey by Gartner found that just 12% of 1,500 respondents believe their businesses are highly prepared for the impact of the Covid-19. Most respondents, 56%, rated themselves as somewhat prepared, and 11% said they were either relatively or very unprepared.

“This lack of confidence shows that many organizations approach risk management in an outdated and ineffective manner,” says Matt Shinkman, VP in the Gartner Risk and Audit practice. “The best-prepared organizations will manage the disruption caused by the coronavirus far better than their less-prepared peers.”

Gartner also lists three immediate actions for CIOs to prepare for Covid-19 disruption.

The Origin

The World Health Organization said a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China, was first reported to the WHO country office in China on Dec. 31. The outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern on Jan. 30. The WHO announced the “Covid-19” name on Feb. 11. The virus surpassed 100,000 cases on March 7.

A WHO dashboard of Covid-19 reported 124,518 confirmed cases and 4,607 deaths in 118 countries, areas or territories as of March 12.

Several information sources on Covid-19 are becoming available, including one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SIA, which cancelled its 2020 Executive Forum North America in the wake of government announcements, also has a page with information on Covid-19.

The Human Element

While the virus will surely have an impact on the economy, many in the staffing industry are focused on the impact it will have on people.

The spread of the coronavirus is a reminder that the health and well-being of people is priority No. 1, says Chad Lane, president of Allegis Global Solutions.

“I don’t think we’re unique in this outlook, and so we are experiencing the coronavirus situation the same way many companies do,” Lane says. “It starts with uncertainty and anxiety. It follows with education and communication, and it results in action that leads to different ways of working and doing business. Some of those actions will serve as a temporary prevention measure. Others will have a lasting impact on how companies engage talent to get work done.”