5 Ways to Manage a Human Resources Crisis During COVID-19

By Suzanne Lucas, on March 26, 2020

Your employees are not okay.

In this COVID-19 world, this is a fact for every single one of your employees. They may act like they are okay. They may say they are okay, but they are not okay.

Most aren’t pretending. This is just hard.5 tips for handling a human resources crisis during COVID-19

Every one of them faces uncertainty. People working in health care or grocery stores have secure jobs, but tremendous stress and a high exposure to the coronavirus. Almost everyone else is experiencing employment uncertainty right now. Plus, their kids are home from school, and parents must suddenly be expert homeschoolers. If you’re in Utah, you’re also dealing with an earthquake. (Just another square on the apocalypse bingo card. Oh, and the Middle East has a plague of locusts.)

They are not okay.

Learn how to communicate with your team during COVID-19.

As employee relations specialists, you’re not exempt from any of this stress. You have the same problems your employees have, plus you’re also dealing with employee sick days, layoffs, furloughs and planning for how to get through this (temporary, we hope) crisis.

You are not OK.

I’m usually a pretty positive person and a fan of looking on the bright side. My town locked everything down except for grocery stores and pharmacies. My kids appear to be healthy. We have plenty of food. But, we are stressed out, concerned about the future, nervous about parents and grandparents, and desperate for school to resume (well, in all fairness, I’m desperate for school to return, the kids, not so much).

I say all this because employee relations people must understand that life is not normal and that their limits may be reached. Here’s what you need to focus on to manage a human resources crisis during Covid.

5 Ways to Manage a Human Resources Crisis During Covid

1. Keep everyone informed

What’s the status of your business? It may change from day to day. It may be stable. If it is, let people know that. 

If it’s not stable and you need to conduct layoffs or furloughs, let people know that those things are coming. Knowing is better than not knowing. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Just be honest. It’s not like you’ll spoil some secret if you let people know that layoffs are coming. They all expect it. These are not regular reductions in force.

2. Give people slack

If your staff must work on-site, remember they have childcare problems. If they work from home (preferred), and you hear kids during calls or people don’t immediately respond to instant messages, chill. And, more importantly, instruct your managers to chill.

While this is a grand experiment to see just how many jobs can be done from home, it’s also nothing like normal working from home. In a typical work from home situation, the children are at school or daycare, the employee has a place to work, and the world isn’t ending. Now, people are balancing laptops on their actual laps while simultaneously playing Candyland and participating in a conference call. Everyone needs some compassion.

3. Remind people about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

While your service provider may be overwhelmed, that’s why they exist. They can help with mental health issues (which will be exacerbated by this stressful situation), legal issues, and financial problems. Remember, regular life problems didn’t go away when the pandemic struck. People still have all the same problems as before — this is just on top of it.

4. Advocate for the best possible policies

HR consultant and employment attorney Kate Bischoff advocates for making COBRA (continued health insurance) payments for laid-off employees rather than severance. While people may prefer cash, if they get sick, the insurance can be more valuable. Plus, due to many regulations around severance releases, they may not see the money for some time. 

Do not oppose unemployment for any employee laid off. Inform people how to apply and walk them through the system if necessary. 

Make sure you choose positions for elimination based on the position and not on the person in it. It may seem like the compassionate thing to do to retain the most vulnerable or fire people with working spouses, but you’ll run into legal and moral issues. Don’t do this.

Remember that when this ends, you’ll want to hire your employees back. Treat them with compassion! And you may terminate others today, but your job may be eliminated tomorrow — advocate for the most kindness possible.

5. Take care of yourself

This is not a joke. Make sure you’re sleeping. Make sure you’re eating some vegetables and not your secret stash of apocalypse chocolate. Try to get some exercise every day. It’s good for your body and your spirit. You need it.

None of us knows where this is heading. It’s different every day. We do know our employees are looking to us for guidance. Let’s do the best we can, and we will all get through this, together.

HR Acuity wants to help too. We’ve created a COVID-19 resource center for employee relations professionals to share the latest policies, best practices and tools to help enable your teams and we are providing free access to our employee relations and investigation platform Check it out.

Suzanne Lucas

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