HomeOpinion & AnalysisCrisis management during COVID-19: The human side

Crisis management during COVID-19: The human side


guest column:Emmanuel Zvada

KEEPING employees calm, engaged and productive is not going to be easy in the middle of a lockdown due to the global pandemic. How to deal with the uncertainty and support employees through this difficult time should become a major concern for many employers. Employers must provide employees direction and hope in good and bad times because a crisis is a time when it can be hardest to stay true to your values. It is imperative for employers to address the human side of crisis as well as having a clear ways to keep employees engaged and productive during a pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a very uncertain business climate. In the past, we’ve seen companies face serious disruptions but this one caught everyone unaware. Crises can occur at any moment and employers need to make weighty decisions in a short space of time for survival, changes to a new reality also happen meaning even the practices has to change. Below are various ways that can be utilised by employers in dealing with the global pandemic.

Building internal resilient mindset
When your organisation goes through unstable or challenging times, it’s critical that everyone on your team adopt a mindset of resilience. A mindset of resilience is being able to adapt to changing circumstances, incorporate new behaviours and follow new processes. Resilience is the process of being able to adapt well and bounce back quickly in times of stress.

Developing resilience can help you cope adaptively and bounce back after changes, challenges and setbacks. It can help you maintain caring relationships with others and help you maintain a positive and easy-going disposition.

Value-based decisions matter
Whether due to a pandemic or natural disaster, a crisis can send an operationally sound business into distress with little warning. When a company is perceived by its own people as being inauthentic in its response, the trust lost by employees can have long-term consequences. On the other hand, making value-based decisions can help bring the organisation and its teams together, and come out of the crisis stronger and more unified than before. When you consider your values in decision-making, you can be sure to keep your sense of integrity and what you know is right, and approach decisions with confidence and clarity.

Maintain communication to and from all employees
Good communication is an essential tool in achieving productivity and maintaining strong working relationships at all levels of an organisation. Decision-making in a crisis is tough and often there is little time and energy left to devote to how you will communicate your decisions to your employees. It is imperative to keep everyone up-to-date with the latest information. One effective way in which to keep lines of communication open is to distribute daily bulletins or other company announcements even over WhatsApp groups. It is also important for the company to ask the employees if they have any questions and be prepared to dispel any rumours that may have circulated. This will build trust among employees, leading to increases in productivity, output and morale in general.

Plan with your team
As coronavirus is affecting workplaces around the world, employers need to adjust to this new situation and develop a strategy to prevent damages the coronavirus can bring. When we say damages, we mean both the safety and the productivity of your entire workforce.

The first step is showing your team the value in planning for the future together despite the crisis. Some team members may wonder why they should engage if the situation feels hopeless or if they are busy putting out fires. Let each team member know you need their ideas and partnership now more than ever and make sure you do that by increasing the frequency of team meetings.

Be transparent and empathetic
Be honest about the harshness of the situation and clearly explain what the business must do to survive. But take caution to only share what you know for certain. If you don’t have all the answers at that moment or a firm idea when things will return to normal, it is advisable you commit to providing regular updates. Employers must do all they can to prevent rumours from circulating and communicate information that is correct via proper channels.

Be sensitive to your employees
As a business owner, the most important thing you can do is to ensure that your employees are safe. People matter most, and first and foremost, you have to ensure that your employees are safe always. Whether it’s within an office environment, in the warehouse or in a manufacturing plant, employee health and safety is exceptionally important. Proactive measures, such as providing personal protective equipment and sanitisation products, should be taken.

It’s also encouraged for employers to check on their employees here and there. Have cleaning procedures in place and regularly wipe down all surface areas with antiseptic is key.

Disinfect commonly used surfaces, like doorknobs, tables, desks and handrails, and encourage your employees to wash their hands immediately upon entering the room.

Appreciation is free don’t ignore efforts of your employees
There are many creative strategies you can implement to adjust compensation during uncertain times to satisfy both goals of keeping employees on board while protecting the financial health of your business. Making even a small investment of time and energy into appreciating your team can save you employee turnover-related losses. Building a culture of appreciation comes down mostly to a lot of small rational practices such as not taking your people for granted, remembering to say thank-you in a personal and sincere way as well as making it clear that you are interested in your employees’ growth and in them as individuals.

The human side of crisis
One of the errors in crisis management planning is the tendency to focus on systems, operations, infrastructure and public relations, with people last on the list. Organisations need to pay greater attention to the impact of critical events on employees, their families and the community. Business recovery cannot occur without employees hence HR plays a strategic role in promoting trustful and prepared leadership throughout the organisation to help reassure employees of their safety.

HR leaders have a strategic role and responsibility to ensure their organisations are aware of internal vulnerabilities on the human side to different types of crises and to ensure their crisis management plan covers all potential risks and concerns. HR has the opportunity to ascertain that the human capital is taken care of in all crisis management and business continuity plans are also in place. HR is uniquely positioned to make sure a company’s crisis plan reflects its culture at the same time valuing employees and the organisation.

While many companies safeguard their operation systems, infrastructure and public relations during a crisis, they may fail to account for the human side of crisis management — to the detriment of the organisation. Crisis management, when handled well, safeguards the reputation of the organisation, which can have a long-term impact on sales and profits. Since the HR department is responsible for promoting employee welfare, the role of HR in a crisis is to protect employee needs in planning, training and enacting crisis management.

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