Phases of Crisis – Employee Experience Matters!

Kyla Holcombe, Ph.D., Insights Consultant & Organizational PsychologistEmployee Engagement, Experience-Driven Survey, Leadership, Strategic ListeningLeave a Comment

What a whirlwind the past several weeks have been. As an HR leader, you may feel flooded by articles about Covid-19 and strategies for responding to the coronavirus. You also may feel like you can’t get enough information because it’s such a unique situation that teams are still figuring out how to navigate. And though your motivation to deal with coronavirus may wax and wane, keep in mind that while this too shall pass, staying focused and intentional will help you move through the phases of this crisis successfully.

While many things may still be up in the air, we are beginning to settle into a new normal. Organizations and teams have patched solutions together to get people working remotely or safely onsite. Now it is time to evaluate how things are going and, if you have the capacity, think about what’s down the road a couple weeks or months from now.

As your organization moves from crisis management, to adjusting to the new normal, to planning for crisis recovery, here are some tips for HR teams to keep in mind.

Phase 1: Crisis Management

Upon the initial onset of any crisis, the primary response should be to quickly inform people about what’s going on and address immediate needs. Teams are operating in survival mode and focused on getting through one day at a time. Business essentials – operations, employees’ basic needs, and safety – seem to occupy every minute and ounce of energy.

People have endless questions: What is my job? Does anyone care about me? What does this mean for business? Leadership have a lot on their plates, not the least of which is employees looking to them for direction. It may feel difficult for leaders to identify a clear direction, communicate it, and bring people along in the changes when so much uncertainty remains. When navigating this phase, it is important to check in on the communication and support employees need.

What you can do:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Leadership builds confidence through consistent and transparent communication. Leadership may not yet know the impact of the coronavirus on the organization and may still be working on a response plan. However, leaders can share what they know, what they don’t, what they’re working to find out, and how to live core values in this time of crisis.
  • Supervisors should frequently reach out to employees to provide updates, check in on how people are doing, and set expectations as best as possible.
  • Encourage employees to check in with each other and find strength in supporting their teams. Having a sense of belonging helps keep people engaged and is more important than ever for well-being and motivation.
  • Consider running a quick Crisis Management Pulse Survey to gauge how safe and supported employees feel, if employees have the basic resources they need, and whether communication is effectively reaching people throughout the organization.

Phase 2: Adjusting to the New Normal

Non-essential employees are working from home, safety needs for essential employees are being addressed, and people are starting to get in the groove with their new work situations. Changes are ongoing, no doubt, but the shock seems to be lessening as people accept the current state of the world and what it means for their work and personal lives. As your workforce adjusts to their new normal, it is time to check in on well-being, communication and collaboration, and how work is getting accomplished.

What you can do:

  • Stay focused on communication. Things are still changing rapidly and as people settle into their new, temporary normal, now is not the time to lax on communication. One of Newmeasures’ clients learned in a recent pulse survey that most people want communication about Covid-19 from the organization every 1-2 days. In addition to updates about work expectations, policies, and company decisions, share stories about employees being creative, resilient, and fun to help keep people positive and bring a little joy to their day.
  • Supervisors – keep reaching out regularly to employees. Similar to the stages of grief, employees are likely experiencing ups and downs as they adjust and try to accept their new normal.  
  • Consider running a brief Adjusting to the New Normal Pulse Surveyto see how employees are feeling about their well-being, connection despite physical distancing, and barriers to productivity. Maintaining a balance between demonstrating care for people and driving results is especially difficult right now, so checking in bi-weekly will provide critical information needed to strike the best balance possible.

Phase 3: Crisis Recovery

Change is likely to be with us for some time. Shelter-in-place orders will be lifted, business and restaurants will reopen, and we will all have to adjust to what life looks like post-coronavirus. There is still no clear timeline or picture of what this will look like, but there are actions HR teams can take now to prepare for the next phase.

What you can do:

  • Consider employee well-being holistically and how the organization can support people physically, financially, socially, emotionally, and developmentally when they transition back to the office and to another new normal.
  • Consider what changes with technology, flexible work schedules, work from home options, and modes of communication may be beneficial to retain after shelter-in-place orders are lifted and people return to the office. For example, many nonprofits have switched to virtual events like couch concerts, virtual auctions, and flash fundraisers online. Many teams have realized that virtual meetings are a great option and alternative to meeting face-to-face. Some employees discovered they don’t work effectively at home and prefer the office, whereas others will want to retain the option of working from home if possible.
  • Consider what people will need to transition back to work. The logistics are important here – timeline, expectations, and resources – but don’t forget the emotional experience. People will be dealing with the repercussions of this crisis for many months to come. Remind people of the available outlets for their concerns and ideas, such as always-on listening mechanisms.
  • Even when people can return to the physical workspace, they will likely have personal and home needs to continue balancing. Consider the needs of employees who have kids at home (many schools are closed for the rest of the year), ill family members or friends, or loved ones who have been financially affected by this crisis.
  • Consider staffing and workload needs. If you’ve experienced layoffs or furloughs, it may be wise to ask who among your staff would consider coming back once you have open positions. It is ideal to recruit, hire, and train people who have already worked for your organization and were a good fit, but the challenge is identifying those people, keeping open lines of communication with them, and attracting them back to your organization when the time comes.
  • Needless to say, the considerations may feel like a daunting list, but organizations who are looking forward now, as best they can, will be in a much better situation than organizations who aren’t.
  • Consider running a Crisis Recovery Pulse Survey to check-in on these topics and others that are critical to your business. We will all come out of this having learned a lot and it will be important to capture innovative ideas. It is also an opportunity to communicate value to your employees, how they feel, and their experiences as you determine how best to recover once the peak of the crisis is behind us.

Much of this is easier said than done. To lead your own team and support the organization as an HR function, it is important to practice self-care, meet yourself and your team where they’re at, and acknowledge your own journey in this crisis.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely put it, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Tough times can bring out the best in us. Aim to be an HR team and an organization that rises to the challenge, stays in touch with employees’ experiences, and plans for a successful recovery from this crisis.