My inbox is flooded with questions about COVID-19, including how employers should be handling the crisis and what employees should expect from their management. This is truly an unprecedented event; although companies want to maintain uninterrupted service for customers and clients, that may not be possible. And that’s okay because the employees that make up any organization should be the company’s priority. This is not just a nice thing for management to do. It is good business. Without employees, a company cannot deliver products and services to their clients, let alone get paid for those products and services.
A client sent me an email from her company’s management. This is a case study in What Not To Do. In part, it states that “the HQ office remains open, but the following conditions apply. If you are unwell, do not come to the office. Avoid using public transportation to come to the office. Practice social distancing while in the office. Be rigorous in practicing good personal hygiene as per CDC guidelines before, during, and after your time in the office.” The message goes on to state that each team will “individually determine its balance of in-office and remote work.” Not only is this totally lame, but it is also completely irresponsible. Epidemiologists are on record stating that the primary goal at this point is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. And that means limiting exposure to other people. The state in which the company is headquartered ordered an 8 PM mandatory closure of all non-essential businesses, along with an 8 PM curfew for citizens. State government also importuned all businesses to comply and close non-essential operations. This company failed to do so. Perhaps worse, the company did not mandate work from home but instead left this up to individual business unit managers. What is needed during a time of crisis is straightforward direction and a clear action plan, NOT a “pass the buck” mentality.
Which brings me to my point…what SHOULD management do during a time of crisis? Read on.
Have a business continuity plan in place. Don’t wait until the crisis to craft a plan. And, by all means, don’t wait until the fire is advancing to conduct a fire drill. You shouldn’t test your contingency plan during the crisis. This needs to be undertaken when things are calm.
Have a dedicated team. Don’t direct employees only to their managers. You need a crisis control team that serves as the hub of information during the crisis.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Do I need to elaborate? Let people know what’s going on.
Cut employees some slack. Your employees are human. They are scared, confused, and probably angry. In times of extreme uncertainty, don’t expect 110% performance. People have other things on which they are focused. Lead with empathy and understanding.
Offer assistance. It’s not just the right thing to do; it is also good for your business. I recall a client whose home was damaged in Hurricane Sandy. Her employer’s response was to copy her on a mass email directing her to the FEMA website. The result? She was utterly disillusioned with her management, knew that they were not at all invested in her survival, let alone her success, and left a few months later. Do the right thing. It’s also the smart thing.
The bottom line
Crises are not times for business as usual. They are times for management to step up and show employees that they really do care about them and that they are more important than short-term revenue losses or gains. Step up. Make decisions and communicate them across the organization clearly and straightforwardly manner. And above all, wash your hands!