Leading your employees through the pandemic crisis

March 31, 2020

The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus is moving most organizations into unchartered territories in terms of human resource policies and practices. The challenge is how to implement various levels of business continuity plans to ensure core business functions continue, where possible, while addressing the fears and anxieties experienced by employees on issues such as personal health and well-being, loss of pay, fear of losing their job, and uncertainty over the length and severity of the pandemic’s impact. Employers can take several actions to assist employees in the coming weeks and months.

Communicate. Provide frequent updates on the plans or policies that will impact employees directly. In times of extreme stress and fear, most people do not function well with ambiguity. In fact, the lack of information can heighten employee tension and anxiety resulting in non-productive behaviors that can lead to more serious situations. Consequently, sharing information frequently and transparently can minimize any employee misperceptions about the employer’s truthfulness.

Offer facts, dispel fiction. Employers are fielding all types of information regarding business plans, HR policy and myths about coronavirus at light speed. Some of it is legitimate, and some of it based on misinformation. Employers need to ensure employees have up-to-date information on plans and policies based on facts not fiction. Therefore, as managers communicate frequently and purposefully, they need to be clear and do all they can to minimize, or even eliminate, any confusion or misunderstanding by employees.

Review HR policies. Employers need to examine their HR policies in areas such as paid-time-off, flexible work arrangements or telecommuting, travel and leave (paid and unpaid). Clearly detailing these policies with specific task-based action items is essential. Employees do not need a lot of legal or policy jargon. They need policies that are easy to understand and actionable. If your policies are overly general or broad, consider revising them so that they provide clear guidance on what managers and employees need to do.

Stay flexible. Given the dynamic nature of the current situation, we must be ready to adapt as necessary. Simply relying on traditional HR policies that can be challenging to administer in normal times, are not going to be effective in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. For example, if the telecommuting policy prohibits employees who deal with customers to work off-site, consider loosening them for non-essential staff. The key is to be agile and flexible in those areas that promote business continuity while maintaining both safety and well-being for employees.”

Dr. Darren Brooks, assistant chair of Department of Management, associate lecturer and director of the Center for Human Resource Management
Areas of expertise: Human resources, learning systems and change management