March 27, 2020

Five ways to support your workforce in a crisis

Employees form the backbone of organizations, and their well-being can suffer greatly during a crisis. We need them to be at their best at the very time when that is most difficult to achieve – and the strain on our people can’t be ignored. Jarrett Jedlicka, Vice President & Principal, Industry Advisory – Healthcare, shares five actions organizations need to take to support employee well-being during difficult times.

We’re in the midst of an unprecedented crisis right now across the world. Navigating the complexities of our current situation is a significant challenge for governments, companies, and citizens. Many organizations are, understandably, focused on executing business continuity plans, but the substantial strain on the workforce can’t be ignored. Employees form the backbone of organizations, and their well-being can suffer greatly during a crisis.

Situations like COVID-19 don’t come with a playbook. And perseverance requires creative thinking, problem solving, and a herculean effort from every individual. We need our people to be at their best at the very time when that is most difficult to achieve. Our people may be struggling to stay engaged and perform the day-to-day tasks of their job. Their mental and physical health may be affected by the additional stress they’re under, as well as the anxiety of uncertainty. Some will be experiencing loneliness or isolation, while others grapple with competing priorities and burnout.

According to the American Institute of StressAttitudes in the American Workplace VII report, nearly half of stressed out workers say they need help learning to manage that stress. Now, more than ever, leaders need to show their people the path forward. The following are several steps organizations can take to help improve employee well-being in times of crisis.

Five key actions organizations can take to support employee well-being during a crisis

1. Adapt to the new reality

A global crisis, such as what we’re experiencing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, can change day-to-day life significantly. It’s critical that organizations adapt to the new reality in front of them as quickly as possible, and set up the necessary processes, systems, and communication channels to help their people adjust.

How to adapt to the new reality:

  • Leverage technology to support new ways of working, as well as your team’s emotional well-being
  • Increase the communication cadence to keep employees’ aware of important developments
  • Prepare people for changes as they occur to the best of your ability
  • Provide tools and resources to help people manage change, as well as stress
  • Create the right boundaries to protect employee well-being


2. Lead from empathy

Empathy goes a long way toward building trust during a crisis. It can be difficult to communicate with your team when so much is uncertain, and major changes are happening daily. As difficult as it may be, it’s important to lead from a place of calm, and to encourage your team to follow suit.

How to lead from empathy:

  • Acknowledge the reality your team is facing – be positive, but don’t ignore the elephant in the room
  • Overcommunicate and be as transparent as possible about what you know and what you don’t
  • Manage expectations to the best of your ability
  • Create channels for expressing emotions and concerns in a healthy way
  • Show gratitude toward your team often


3. Increase flexibility

During times of crisis, many employees will be pulled in multiple directions. Pressure to keep up with increased work and family obligations can put additional pressure on many caregivers. Allowing more flexibility empowers your people take care of things that may be weighing on their minds, reducing their stress so they’re more effective when working.

How to increase flexibility:

  • Relax the rules on business hours and “face time”
  • Empower your people to set their own schedule
  • Demonstrate and communicate trust
  • Soften deadlines for work that isn’t immediately business critical
  • Encourage your team to prioritize


4. Preserve structure

While agility is key during a crisis, it’s equally important to keep as much structure as the situation allows. Preserving structure helps your team stay focused and moving forward, and creates a sense of normalcy and calm.

How to preserve structure:

  • Stay focused on long-term goals, wherever possible
  • Continue career development activities – these can be made virtual or adapted to your situation
  • Replicate office routines at home or in your new working environment
  • Reward and recognize performance
  • Celebrate big wins


5. Work with purpose

No matter how big or small, every company can be part of the solution in a crisis. Organizations should look for a purpose to rally the team around, whether it’s doubling down on customer service, sharing information with your industry, or temporarily pivoting your business. Focusing on service and corporate citizenship in times of crisis can help give your people a sense of control and value.

Some organizations will find that they are facing an increased amount of downtime. If that is the case, look for opportunities to use that time to help your company hit the ground running once things are back to normal, such as training employees or tackling an administrative project.

How to work with purpose:

  • Rally your team around a common goal
  • Consider corporate citizenship – how can your organization give back?
  • Be part of the solution
  • Find opportunities in the situation to set your organization up for success later
  • Focus on the future


Make supporting your people during a crisis is an important part of your business continuity strategy by taking the five actions described in this post. Keep the lines of communication open between leaders and employees as your organization continues to adapt to this ever-changing situation. Stay informed, agile, and, most importantly, empathetic to the needs of your people.

Jarrett Jedlicka

Jarrett has held a number of senior positions at leading healthcare and technology organizations and is a contributing author to Ceridian's thought leadership. 

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