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Leading through Crisis: How to Treat your Employees While Navigating a Pandemic

By Stephanie Anderson

It can be said that it’s not organizations that deliver customer experiences, it’s the people who work for and represent the organization who do. If salary, benefits and professional opportunities are largely equal from one organization to the next, employee experience is what truly separates a company and ultimately determines its ability to effectively attract and retain top talent.

How an organization treats its workforce is mirrored in how those employees treat the customers. In that regard, employee experience is critical to the bottom line and an organization’s ability to remain profitable far into the future. It is fair to assume how employees are treated has tangible effects on the viability of an organization.

In these times of uncertainty, how employees are treated will be remembered for years to come. How a business chooses to respond amid a global health crisis will have a lasting impact on employee behavior, including engagement, productivity and loyalty. For employees, health and well-being, financial stability and job security are top concerns at present and employers can help address those fears in meaningful ways.

A Crisis Management Strategy should place an emphasis on the employees and the work environment that has been cultivated. Six key areas of focus are included below as a starting basis for consideration and implementation. 

  1. Prioritize employee well-being. Start or promote a company wellness program, communicate availability of employee assistance programs, revamp policies on paid time off (PTO), encourage flexible work options and offer mental health support. For employees to take care of their residents and co-workers, they must first take proper care of themselves. Remember that some employees will not feel comfortable asking for help, so consistent communication encouraging use of resources pertaining to health and overall well-being is key.

  2. Communicate, and then overcommunicate. There is a direct need to address the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to employees and their concerns around their current situations. Leaders will need to be completely transparent about job security, financial challenges and what lies ahead for the company and its employees. Overcommunicating will assist with eliminating any assumptions or conjecture while also minimizing unnecessary stress and frustration throughout this difficult time.

  3. Safeguard employees. Employee safety should be a top priority. Provide updated hygienic and safety policies for your workplace, as well as make available personal protective equipment (PPE) and require all employees to complete training on proper use, removal and disposal. Discuss CDC guidelines for cleaning protocols and embrace these guidelines as a company standard. Understand that some employees will be hesitant to return to the workplace given the current situation, and empathy is important during the transition.

  4. Give sincere thanks. Onsite team members are real heroes and should be treated as such. Use recognition to reinforce the contributions essential employees are making. A handwritten card, gift card, phone call and complimentary lunch are all easy ways to express gratitude. Additionally, announcements to all staff about these employees’ above-and-beyond contributions can be made on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

  5. Provide flexibility. Offering flexible schedules and work-from-home options can assist those employees experiencing childcare issues or those who are high risk or reside with someone who is. It is important to stay ahead of this challenge by constructing a policy to assist employees through the consideration of flexible options that can be offered to affected employees and how to determine consistency and fairness on a case-by-case basis. If feasible, consider allowing employees to work remotely and adjust work schedules (hours and days) as needed. Remember that working in a virtual environment is new to most and that patience is needed when contending with non-office distractions like children and pets

  6. Simply ask what they need. Employees are not always eager to ask questions or share ideas or feedback. Providing an open forum where leadership welcomes feedback will help encourage employees to speak up. Provide a safe space for employees to openly share their concerns. Create a survey, have an open-door policy, encourage conversations and always ask for employees to share their thoughts. After you have received information from employees, provide positive, meaningful feedback to keep them motivated and to ensure their needs are met. Even if you are unable to provide what is asked, addressing any feedback provided allows employees to feel important and valued.

It’s a challenging time for everyone, but the most important thing for companies to do right now is to take care of their employees. Remember that this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Just as a crisis brings uncertainty and challenges, it can also be a time of opportunity and positive change.