March 24, 2020

Strategies for leaders and managers to support employees during COVID-19

During this unprecedented time, employees are looking to leaders to offer clarity, creativity, and compassion. Here, Ceridian’s VP of Learning Excellence, Lisa Bull provides strategies for managers and leaders to better understand, lead, and support employees during a crisis.

It’s been said that employees never pay more attention to leadership than during times of crisis. During this unprecedented time, employees are looking to the leaders of their organisations to step up and offer clarity, creativity and compassion.

To understand how to best lead and support employees during a crisis, it’s helpful to understand how crises are defined and the impact that they can have on employees. For most, the current global coronavirus pandemic feels like it came upon us suddenly and unexpectedly.

Many employees feel threatened – either in a real way, as they fear for their health and the health of their families and/or in a perceived way as they grapple to understand all the possible implications of the pandemic.

As a result, many employees are experiencing strong emotional reactions and are finding that their once-strong coping strategies are flagging. Knowing this can help leaders understand not only how to behave but why specific behaviors are so important.

Communicate clearly and repeatedly

Leadership consultant David Michels writes in Forbes that “mental noise in high-stress situations reduces the ability to process information by 80% on average.” In other words, he says, people have difficulty hearing, understanding, and recalling information when they’re under stress.

The key for leaders is to communicate clearly, concisely and regularly. At Ceridian, our CEO David Ossip sends out a daily communication to all employees. Sometimes it contains critical information, like how to access health benefits, and sometimes it is a simple touchpoint reminding employees that their well-being is important. Ossip and other senior leaders are also hosting a weekly global all-hands call.

According to Harvard Business Review, research shows that we respond positively to people when we feel a personal connection to them. So, it’s important to have trusted leaders who practice empathy and authenticity deliver these messages during stressful times.

Stay creative and flexible

For some of us, working remotely is old hat, but for many employees and managers it may be a new experience. Depending on the industry or the workplace culture, what was once considered unthinkable is now a way of life. It falls on all leaders to lean into flexibility – whether that’s working with employees to arrange a flexible schedule to allow for child care or planning on a regular virtual team ‘huddle’ to ensure that your group stays engaged – now is the time to demonstrate our abilities to be creative and innovative.

Related: Your virtual team, and discovering the power in distance

During last week’s all-hands call, Ceridian’s CIO Warren Perlman offered to extend the organisations’ Zoom access to employees’ children and families. This creative offering was met with great appreciation from employees and in return, employees began volunteering their own innovative ideas about how we can best support our customers.

Related: COVID-19: IT is key to business continuity

Pay attention to employees' mental health

Understanding the impact of a crisis on employees and anticipating possible emotional responses can help leaders prepare for how to best support the mental well-being of their people. Strategies like normalising reactions can be simple but powerful.

For example, letting an employee know that he or she is responding like a normal person trying to deal with an abnormal experience goes a long way towards helping people feel like their responses are valid and accepted.

It’s also important to share support resources. Ceridian partners with Morneau Shepell to offer LifeWorks – an Employee Assistance Program across our organisation. We regularly remind employees of the in-person and online resources available to help with anxiety and stress, financial concerns, and other issues that they may have in response to the pandemic. Access to LifeWorks is made available through multiple points of contact, including our intranet, COVID-19 Sharepoint site, and through our ongoing communications.

Lisa Bull

Lisa Bull is Vice President, Employee and Leadership Learning at Ceridian. She oversees all Leadership Training Programs and the Talent Excellence Program and also shares responsibility for Ceridian’s On-Boarding Program and mentorship initiatives.

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