Supporting Your Teams in Times of Crisis

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During times of crisis, companies depend on HR leaders to set policies, initiate support, and assist employees. The recent cancellation of SXSW due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is one example, but we also look to HR for support during economic downturns, natural disasters, and company reorganization. If you are looking for resources on COVID-19 for workplaces and how to keep teams healthy and calm, check out my Workology Podcast Coronavirus episode

How Leaders Can Support Your Employees and Teams In Challenging Times 

In my own career, I’ve been part of economic downturns in which I’ve had to assist with employee layoffs in large numbers, as well as dealing with crises like the death of an employee or weather emergencies. I’ve learned that there are several points of focus for human resources that can help HR lead a company through a crisis. This is good information not only for HR, but for other company leaders.

1) Remain calm.

Yes, you’re an employee too; you’re impacted by the crisis, but over time HR gets very good at crisis management. Panicking doesn’t help us and it certainly won’t help the employees we need to support. Find your center, whether it’s self-hypnosis (I’m doing this myself on the regular), a call to a colleague at another company who has more experience than you do (or someone that simply makes you feel calm), get the information you need, remind yourself that you’re setting the tone for what’s to come, and maintain maximum serenity.

Understand that worrying or panicking about a situation we cannot change, especially when it comes to national disasters, is not useful for you or your teams.  

2) Create talking points for managers and team members.

People are looking to you to provide them with reassurance and answers. You can only share what you know and it’s important that your managers and team members are on the same page with regards to what and how to communicate to the rest of your workforce. If you’ve worked some things out and can share them, this is where you do that. For example, some companies have set aside a budget to cover employee absences in cases that do not qualify as sick days, such as having to self-quarantine during a pandemic in order to flatten the curve. These employees are not sick, but they cannot work from home, but you can reassure them that they will be paid for the time out or in the case that you have to close offices or stores. 

One example of this is Warby Parker, who issued the following public statement (after notifying employees) about its store closings:

COVID-19 is impacting all of us—as individuals and as communities—in unprecedented ways. Given the rapidly changing environment, we have decided to temporarily close all of our stores through March 27 for the safety of our customers, our employees, and the general public. Our retail team members will continue to be paid as if they were working in stores during this time.

This is a public statement, but there are two employee talking points here. The first is reassuring employees that their safety is important to you and the second reassured employees that they will be paid during this time. 

3) Create a resource list for support.

This can be disseminated via email from HR to an all company address and should include your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hotline or a local resource in Austin where your employees can get support for things like health resources, childcare, or coping with emotional or financial stress. In instances like an employee death, some companies will even go as far to have grief counselors on site and available to talk with employees. In the light of a pandemic, this might be which stores still have toilet paper in stock and time off to go shop for necessities should they find themselves working from home, in quarantine, or sick. These are small but meaningful ways to support your teams 

4) Be human.

Connect with your people, offer an ear or a shoulder when needed especially in times like now when the entire nation is in this together. We haven’t had a public health crisis of this scale in my lifetime, but we’ll figure it out as we go and hope that we’re making the best decisions for the best public good. In the meantime, being calm doesn’t mean not showing emotion or compassion. This is impacting you too and it’s OK today “I don’t know” or “I’m right here with you” when you need to. 

I’ve heard horror stories already of managers who are requiring that their staff come to work and even continue to conduct in person interviews for positions they are hiring for. We need to be human and have patience and empathy now more than ever before.

5) Be flexible.

While we hope most communities won’t be on a mandated quarantine, we do have to consider parents with children in public schools that may close, so offering flexible or work from home schedules as needed can go a long way to help your teams. Using the pandemic as an example again, this is something that is rapidly changing and developing. We don’t know A LOT. What we do know, we can share. And we can ensure we have procedures in place for many possible scenarios. Predictive reacting is what HR is really great at. Think about what your company will do if schools are closed, if an area within your city is quarantined, if there is a case of COVID-19 within your company, or if one of your employees has been exposed. 

I can’t emphasize the value of communication and transparency for companies in times of crisis enough. If you’re not communicating, you’re losing the trust of your employees and contributing to panic during a crisis. If you and your executive team don’t know what to do yet, it’s OK to communicate that you don’t, but you’re working on it as fast as you can. Make sure your teams know they’re a priority for you, ahead of everything else, and that you’ll share information when you have updates (or that you’ll share “we’re still working this out” if you don’t).

Are you looking for a supportive place to connect with other workplace leaders? Join us for our weekly positivity power hour on Tuesdays at 2:00 PM CST. You can click here to register. You can also join the Workology Group on Facebook

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Yaali Bizappln says

    If you’re firing salespeople at the end of this month for not hitting their number, you’re extremely disconnected.
    If you’re telling salespeople to close more deals, set more appointments and smash the record books on their KPI’s, you’ve gone off the deep end.
    This is a time for slowing down and being empathetic.
    Trying to force your sales teams to make more calls and push harder in their prospecting efforts is out of touch.
    Getting tactical and innovating is what will help your business gain ground.
    Pushing quotas, pressuring your reps, making them uncomfortable and fearing for their job makes you a tyrant.
    Instead, give your reps room to grow.
    Give them permission to try new things.
    Give them the authority to make decisions that affect their future.
    Allow them to serve the community to a greater capacity.
    If you have any kind of client spending budget, have your reps order take-out from the local restaurant that is suffering right now.
    Have them make calls to ask people how they are doing and not what can I sell you.
    Share insights on how you are working remotely.
    Let people vent a bit.
    More conversations.
    Less sales pitches.
    Show up and meet people where they are.
    Treat your sales teams with dignity and respect.
    They’re the front lines.

    Yaali Bizappln Solns


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