Covid-19 emerged onto the world’s stage in December of last year and has since become the embodiment of the word disruption. This infectious respiratory disease turned worldwide pandemic, has forced small businesses, industries, and entire countries to close their doors. The world has been brought to a standstill with lockdowns, restrictive measures, and quarantines.
Many HR professionals have moved from performing solely traditional transactional processes such as compensation and benefits, recruitment and training to taking on strategic initiatives to assist with business continuity. These efforts move HR’s position closer to the head of the leadership table as they lead the charge of releasing, reassigning, restructuring, and reassuring team-members. As a part of these efforts, here are three things that HR can do during a pandemic.
Transparent & Timely
Communication in 2020 meant the introduction of a news cycle that moves at never-before-seen speeds. News can inexplicably change directions with a press conference, press release, or even through social media. In some instances, answers come before the question itself. Today’s HR must move at the same speed and provide transparent and timely communication. The first thing that employees consider after ingesting any news is how it affects them; especially their livelihoods. No one wants to be left in the dark as to whether or not they are required to come into the office, work from home, or if they’ve been laid off. The best approach is to be transparent, leave no room from misinterpretation, and no time for rumors or doubt to form.
Communicate with Empathy
Now, although we want to communicate quickly and efficiently, understand that we are speaking to human beings with hopes and dreams, struggles and challenges, feelings, and emotions. Communicate with empathy, i.e., try to understand what your staff members are experiencing and respond accordingly. A family-oriented team member may not respond well to a ‘drop-everything-and-report-to-work-in-the-morning mandate, the evening before. The same can be said about a team member budgeting their income to maximize their food store allowance; an unexpected layoff can fully derail their plans. I understand that as said before, news changes in an instant but HR should meet with leadership at the onset of market changes to discuss plans that can be executed in the event of an emergency and devise a communication plan that maintains the dignity of all persons involved.
Know What To Say When Emotions Run High
Surely, there are going to be instances where uncomfortable, unavoidable conversations will have to take place. In this current climate, emotions are especially high and we have all seen that even the most routine interactions at the food store or banking lines can turn hostile in an instant. Persons are on edge and anxious due to the stressors of being inundated with bad news, unsure of their environment, and well-being. With all of that going on, HR has the task of playing mediator during tense conversations. This is not for the faint of heart. It takes a high level of emotional intelligence to understand your audience, know their stressors, anticipate an extreme reaction, and take steps to swiftly de-escalate the situation. Be conscious of the tone of your voice and bring the conversation back to facts and not opinions.
Be open to hearing all sides and acknowledge valid points from each participant. Provide the option of taking a minute to step away, gather our thoughts, and settle our emotions before coming back to the table. Follow up after these conversations and provide additional support when needed. Also, take this as a time to encourage connectivity. As HR professionals, we can speak the language of the organization, leadership teams, and employees. We can use opportunities such as these to help all stakeholders to consider other points of view which hopefully will soften these tough blows that come. These times call for HR personnel to be strategic and intentional.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive.
What exactly is strategic HR? Strategic Human Resources is the method of focusing HR efforts on building an engaged workforce and measuring the success of your efforts. In times such as these, a strategic plan is essential as businesses must assess what resources they are left with, what they need, and how they will fill the gap between. What does strategic planning look like? Forecasting the needs of the organization.
For example, Mr. Adderley is a retiree that owns a small women’s retail clothing store and has a staff complement of five full and part-time persons, including himself. His business has been open for less than three years and is just starting to become profitable. Covid-19 emerges, with spikes of cases spreading throughout the community. The government responds by implementing safety measures to reduce the spread, including closing non-essential businesses such as clothing stores. Besides, the sales of semi-formal clothing have drastically decreased as leisure outings such as church services, weddings, and other group gatherings have been restricted. Sounds familiar right?
Again, strategic HR forecasts the company’s needs. Whereas transactional HR would have paused any HR efforts and await further insight from management, strategic planning thinks one step ahead. Strategic HR assesses the conditions of the market, possible changes in the way the company should operate, and makes suggestions accordingly such as retention or release of existing staff members, training opportunities to bring staff up to speed on alternatives like e-commerce, curbside, and delivery models, as well as the requisite health care benefits and education opportunities that can be offered to ensure that staff is well aware of the options available to them.
So even though HR professionals should aim to communicate, mediate and strategize, it is important to note that there is so much more that can be done. These are challenging times for everyone and the support that HR and the leadership team provide can easily transition out of the workplace and become more far-reaching. Remember, all of these points speak to effective relationship management and respect for the human in the resources.