Leading HR in a Crisis: The Importance of Gauging Employee Well-being 

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Jun 5, 2020

In an ever-changing work climate that can be quickly shifted by a crisis, companies have a lot of work to do when preparing and handling changes. According to a survey performed by PwC, more than two-thirds of global CEOs believe that their businesses are experiencing more threats to business growth than three years prior.

While large companies have their own difficulties, they have access to more resources and more developed HR teams; smaller companies do not have access to the same resources but still have to read into the needs of the employees. As many small to midsize companies are navigating this crisis, here are a few lessons that HR executives and other leaders can take and apply to their business model moving forward.

Stay connected

As an HR professional, it is important to keep an ear to the ground and stay connected with your team’s individual needs while being aware of the external climate. During crisis situations, the need for a flexible HR team or individual is pivotal. For example, we shifted the frequency of our team meetings to adapt to the quickly changing situation. By having more frequent meetings, we are able to tailor our approach and stay closely knit while being far apart. We also have found ways to prioritize our goals and objectives by looking at what can still be accomplished but in a different way. By doing this, we can maintain some consistency and also stay on track as we move forward with our 2020 HR plans.

Internal communications are key

In addition to this, we shifted the focus of our internal communications with the broader company to be centralized around the crisis. While it is important for companies to have messaging that reassures its clients, it is also important to have messaging that addresses employee concerns. Two major points that I would recommend HR teams focus on are consistency and stability. During a crisis, these are qualities that individuals are looking for, as this is likely where their mental focus is placed the majority of the time. HR professionals can provide this to their team through regularly scheduled all-hands meetings and emails, which could include updates on new regional regulations related to the crisis, news on, and reassurances around employment status where applicable and important information regarding healthcare coverage.

Be patient, open, and prepared

When employees are collectively navigating an unfamiliar situation, HR teams can be flooded with questions and concerns. By planning for these questions ahead of time, HR teams can be efficient and quickly assist their employees, as to not prolong their anxiety and confusion. A way to prepare for this is by looking at your individual needs, then looking at the dynamics of your team, and planning for how the crisis situation may affect them. For example, during the pandemic, many of our employees have questions about sick leave and other forms of time off. By having information about these opportunities easily accessible for the team, we are able to offer as much help as possible during a difficult time.

During overwhelming times like this, HR professionals must be prepared but also patient and open. Employees tend to feel more comfortable talking to the department in times of stress and may be looking for emotional support on top of professional guidance. You can be human and be there for them while simultaneously performing your normal job duties. In fact, I recommend you do just that.

Mental health above all

This is an ideal time for companies to reflect on their HR policies and implement new initiatives. At WhiteHat, we haven’t needed to adjust any of our policies, but have seen the benefits of a few of them truly highlighted– including unlimited PTO, during this crisis. PTO and other breaks can be used to focus on family time and childcare, taking mental breaks from work and the news or to achieve personal goals. There are other ways to be more in tune with your mental well-being during remote working without taking time off, which include developing a routine and practicing healthy habits like taking lunch breaks or going for walks mid-day, to name a few.

I’ve also learned a lot about myself in this process. I realized I often overlook my own mental health and push myself to work nonstop, but recently, I have made an earnest effort to prioritize my own well-being alongside the well-being of the employees I serve. HR employees need to look out for themselves too because if your mind isn’t in the right place, your work won’t be the best it can be, and our teams need us now more than ever.

To help our staff, including our HR department, in light of the pandemic, we are investing significant time in mental health best practice education.

We are all going through a collective traumatic experience, and we don’t know just how damaging its effects may be. We have started offering readings and webinars on relevant topics and are looking into other services that support our workforce through this stressful time. A few helpful topics for HR teams and their employees could include:

  • How can HR professionals manage employee mental health concerns

    • Offering support to their staff, keeping consistent communication, and being inclusive of mental health issues are great ways to manage mental health concerns within a team.

  • Mindfulness

    • Being mindful allows you to practice focusing on what is here and now– while fully accepting it. This improves your mental well-being, but also your physical health.

  • Staying positive during hard times

    • For some people, this can be as simple as helping somebody else, or as complex as putting yourself in another’s shoes. Whichever you choose should be something that makes you feel good about yourself and your current situation.

We also have found ways to bring our in-office culture to our remote-working scheme so that there can be some regularity during this time. Opportunities to engage your workforce can include remote trivia or online “water cooler” chats– anything that can reinforce connecting your team beyond work itself.

Use this as a learning opportunity

Moving forward from a crisis, it is important that HR teams learn from the experience. What are things that we were not focusing on before that we should emphasize now? For some companies, it can be prioritizing mental health. This is something that is crucial to the overall health of a team and is often overlooked until there is a major traumatic event. Focusing on mental health can be as simple as hosting a monthly event for employees to de-stress, or as strategic as using an insurance carrier that provides mental health care.

Crises may be difficult experiences, but they often shine light on opportunities for improvement. Many HR professionals, especially those that are in smaller organizations, may find it difficult to be prepared for a crisis in advance. This is when it becomes important to use your network of professionals to check-in. A few resourceful HR forums and resources that I’ve found are, SHRM, and HR Exchange. This is something that I’ve learned from this crisis: even though we may be apart, we are not alone. Learning from others and receiving meaningful feedback can prove to be beneficial.