Supporting HR Professionals in Times of Crisis

by Claire Dunwoody, Business Director for Robert Walters

I am joined for a Q&A session by Karin Lange, HR Director with 30 years in HR in global corporations. Karin’s experience covers working with HR teams across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East and includes a number of different sectors. With a great passion for HR, Karin  shares some of her thoughts and ideas around how HR can support both their organisation effectively, but also look after their own well-being during these challenging times. See what Karin had to say below.

How do HR make efficient decisions if our present policies don’t apply anymore?

In a crisis, it is likely that some of the company policies will not be applicable. In some companies, employees have started to work from home, without there being a work from home policy in place. With or without a policy, our main goal is to be as fair and consistent as possible and that is a message you should share.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Decisions on internal policies are seldom a matter of life or death and you can therefore allow for some time to create them.
  • You may wish to create temporary guidelines until you have had time to reflect upon, research, develop and get aligned internally on a new policy.
  • When you must make case-by-case decisions, look at your company values to guide you on those, that is what they are there for. To treat employees fairly is not necessarily to give everybody the same but rather to give them what they need most. Boutique benefits have given employees the possibility to select what they need most, as opposed to giving everybody the same, and that has proven to work well.
  • Common sense is never out of date.

How can HR best support managers and employees who show clear signs of stress?

In a crisis people are bound to be worried and anxious, that is part of being a human being. We are all different and react differently on external threat. Resilience is a buzzword flooding social media presently but the science behind human behaviour is much more complex. Physical and mental well-being spans over so many areas of our lives and as an employer we have limited impact on those outside of the work environment, but we can still stretch ourselves and do as much as we possibly can for our employees overall well-being.

To support employee well-being in a crisis, here are a few things to consider:

  • Provide employees with some basic tools for resilience, this can be done very effectively with 1-hour webinars, and there is a lot of information out there to choose from.
  • To increase support resources for a thin HR team you could train resilient champions that can help employees and teams that need further assistance.
  • If you offer counselling/CBT via a health care provider, promote that.
  • Offer webinars on mindfulness, positive affirmations, healthy eating, healthy sleeping, work-from-home well-being challenges etc.

How can we make sure employees perform at their best during this difficult time?

Let’s face it, it will be difficult to completely avoid some drop in productivity at a time when people are bound to be anxious and the future is so uncertain, and it’s important to acknowledge this. There are still many things you can do to keep up productivity and here are a few things to consider:

  • The workday, even for people who work-from-home, should be divided into focused sessions of work, time for breaks and connecting with others.
  • Have set times for company updates so employees know when they are being distributed, perhaps first thing in the morning or before close of business/certain days etc. If you provide regular information you are more likely to get people to focus on work in between and not tempted to constantly check their email for news.
  • Start every meeting with checking in on how people are feeling, acknowledge the worries, decide on actions if necessary, offer of support that can be addressed outside the meeting. Once this is dealt with you can channel the energy and focus on the topic of the meeting.
  • Try to discourage rumour and speculation. Contact individuals who disrupt others, project negativity, or create fear and ask them to stop.

Where do HR get strength from when everybody else is leaning on us?

We all know that in case of an emergency during a flight, we are instructed to put on our own oxygen mask first, before assisting others. Working in HR can at any time feel lonely and emotionally draining, as we deal with people in distress, bullying, grievances, various investigations, and in many of these situations we are not able to talk to anybody outside of HR due to the confidentiality we are bound to. In times of crisis there will be even more pressure on HR. In times of crisis there will be even more pressure on HR to deal with other people’s worries and concerns. So, how do we look after ourselves at times like this? These are a few things to consider:

  • Start every day with a gratitude exercise for a couple of minutes. It’s good to remind ourselves of the things we are grateful for.
  • Finish every working day with acknowledging your achievements of the day. That will draw away focus on the things you didn’t have time to do and beat yourself up for it.
  • If you are lucky enough to be a team of HR professionals, perhaps you can pair up everyone, in groups of 2 or 3 who commit to be each other’s buddies. Have short regular meetings, perhaps 20 minutes per day to just talk about your challenges, vent frustrations, suggest solutions and show each other your support.
  • Be kind to yourself and look after yourself. Have breaks during the day to take a step back and reflect, do mindfulness, take a short walk, or just go outside in the fresh air for a couple of deep breaths. Find what works for you.

Should we avoid doing an employee survey right now?

A good rule of thumb is to not carry out an employee survey if you have no intention to take action. On the other hand, reaching out to employees at this difficult time could be seen as a positive action as it shows that you value their views. You would also learn about what people’s main concerns are and therefore know what is important to them.

If you carry out a survey, consider the following:

  • Ask employees what the find most challenging right now.
  • Ask how the company best can support them at this difficult time.
  • Employees who have frequent contact with customers might see opportunities for new services or products as a result of the crisis. A survey could research this aspect too. Getting this information from employees would not only provide more revenues but also strengthen the customer relations and create great engagement for employees.
  • Report back the findings and be honest. Employees may say they wish for the company to guarantee no redundancies will be made and of course you cannot do that but you can say: “Many of you naturally worry about your jobs and as a company we intend to do everything we can to keep our employees and our business running. What we can assure you is that we will be honest and let you know where we stand every step of the way as this crisis evolves.”

How can we continue to develop people at this chaotic time?

In times of a crisis, an organisation may find that the skills required will change. It could be simply that certain skills will be more in demand or that completely new skills will be required.

This could potentially be great opportunity to train people to learn new skills demanded straight away or sometime in the future. To continue to develop your employees consider:

  • Do a quick skills inventory of the company, trying to think ahead of the curve. Include surveying what customers are asking for, via the employees who are in close contact with customers. It could also be a great opportunity to develop new services or products. Based on the skills demands HR should set out the overall competence strategy.
  • It is a great opportunity to develop a strong learning culture by encouraging employees to seek the information they need to constantly be at the top of their game.
  • Run ‘train the trainer’ sessions to create capability for many employees to gain the skills on how to train others effectively. One of the main obstacles for transferring skills internally is not finding the right subject matters but the lack of understanding of how to train other people.
  • Launch a learning vehicle/platform which can be used for anybody to develop training material on.