As a company based in Texas, with employees located in areas affected by severe winter storms that caused massive blackouts, water, and food shortages; last week was certainly one of the most challenging weeks we’ve experienced. As we deal with crisis after crisis, a theme is emerging loud and clear: leadership matters. It’s permeating our thoughts, topping news headlines, and has put a spotlight on organizational leadership everywhere.
Even though a crisis is rare (or supposed to be), because of the high-risk nature of a crisis, it is imperative for leaders to have crisis management, particularly, crisis response, skills. Once a crisis is underway, your workplace can become chaotic and compound the stress your employees are under. Effective leadership during this time is crucial to not only ensuring your employees’ safety, but it also provides a unique opportunity to show you care — which will go a long way towards building trust, improving overall employee morale, and preserving your company’s culture. If your employees are experiencing a crisis, here are 9 things you can do to lighten the load:
1. Give your employees explicit permission to deal with the crisis
Simply put, leaders need to show up and speak up quickly. Recognize that your employees are under extreme pressure to meet responsibilities in their personal lives at this time. Allow and encourage them to put those needs above those of the business. A good start would be to send an email at the onset of the crisis to everyone in the organization, along with sharing announcements via messaging platforms such as Slack or MS Teams. It helps to deliver the same message across multiple platforms to ensure everyone is reached.
Simply acknowledging that things are not normal and that you understand other priorities need attention right now will make a positive impression. Invite employees to communicate critical information with each other as well. Just because you are a leader does not mean that you will hear about new developments and critical information first. As the crisis unfolds, encourage the entire organization to rely on each other for updates and support.
2. Ensure managers are checking in with employees
If managers are able to, have them check in with each of their direct reports about their welfare. If a manager is unable to due to their own circumstances, ensure someone else on the leadership team can reach out to those individuals. This is not the time to emphasize work projects. Ensure that managers understand that the top priority is to make sure each team member is okay, and to support them during the crisis. Managers should also proactively ask if there is anything the employee needs in case others in the organization may be able to help. Your organization is a community within a community, and team members will typically be happy to do what they can to help each other during a time of crisis. Don’t treat this as a “one and done” task. After the initial check in, follow up consistently, ideally daily, until conditions improve.
3. Don’t try to force “business as usual”
Your employees are battling a crisis. As a leader, you will need to make hard choices about which operational priorities can be delayed until your employees have recovered. Remember that your customers, partners, and other external stakeholders are human beings as well and should be able to understand that your organization is dealing with circumstances outside of your control. Be as clear and transparent as you can about what can and cannot get done under the present conditions, and provide regular updates as the situation evolves. A good mantra during this time is “make do and get through”. This is the time to tap into your patience and empathy. Yes, you have a business to run. But that business is run by human beings. Take care of them, and they will take care of your business.
4. Allow time off to care for others
Whether it’s ensuring personal or family safety, assisting friends in need, or volunteering in community relief efforts, allow your employees to completely unplug from work as needed to deal with the crisis. No one should be stressed out and forced to choose between meeting their basic needs (or those of a loved one or neighbor) or meeting a work deadline. Provide flexibility in deadlines, or identify another team member who can jump in to help. The most important thing is to remove any real or perceived pressure that your team member may be feeling stemming from their work responsibilities.
5. Create a coverage plan based on priorities
Yes, the business still needs to operate as best as it can during a crisis. Flexibility and sensitivity are key when trying to figure out how to move work forward at this time. Once you get a pulse of each team members’ individual situations, you should understand who is available to dedicate time to work during the crisis and who isn’t. From there, see if you can stagger a shift schedule around the business-critical priorities. Push any non-urgent and low-risk projects out to a later date. Try identifying 1-2 important, yet achievable tasks or projects per employee per day. And, send regular communications to keep your team aligned on the top priorities. Keeping things simple and straightforward will help everyone stay focused and bring quick wins to the table, thus boosting morale.
6. Encourage and recognize teamwork
When team members step up to the plate to take on additional work and cover for their coworkers during a crisis, reward them for it. While gifts and bonuses are great, even cost-free options such as recognizing employees in front of the organization will go a long way in showing your appreciation and boosting morale. At ActivTrak, we have a “shoutouts” channel on Slack that allows peers to praise each other – giving our entire organization visibility into those who are going above and beyond.
Company-wide emails highlighting exemplary teamwork are also a great option. But be careful not to unintentionally make others feel guilty for taking the necessary time away to deal with the crisis. When the crisis subsides and the timing is right, you could try hosting a company- or team-wide virtual happy hour to celebrate everyone simply getting through the crisis.
7. Beef up your employee assistance benefits
Expensive copays and high deductibles can be a barrier to your employees getting the help they and their families may need. This is a great time to explore supplemental employee assistance offerings. One option is to implement an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Typically, these programs include mental health, stress management, substance abuse, and caregiving services that an employee or anyone in the employee’s household can use cost-free. This is important at any time, but even more crucial during, and in the aftermath of, a crisis.
Offering crisis-specific or ongoing health and wellness stipends is also a great way to encourage employees to take care of themselves by removing financial barriers to access assistance. You should also take a moment to remind employees about the workplace benefits already in place, and point them to resources such as websites and phone numbers to ensure they can quickly and easily tap into these services amidst a crisis.
8. Give employees time to recover
Recognize that responding to a crisis will put massive strains on everyone’s energy levels, ability to focus, and overall productivity levels in the workplace. This is to be expected, and no one should be scrutinized for a dip in productivity during a crisis. At this time, your #1 priority should be to ensure your employees’ safety. Even after a crisis subsides, understand that there will be a recovery period in which you will need to help your employees and teams recenter and navigate a return to normal productivity levels. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on anyone’s performance at this time. Remember that many of your employees are dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions, lack of sleep, and other stressors.
9. Learn from the experience
After the crisis has passed and operations have returned to normal, it can be helpful to host round-table discussions across the organization to hear what employees thought went well and was helpful as they navigated the situation, and where the organization could better respond in the future. This qualitative feedback can be used to improve communications and other crisis response operations.
In addition to this qualitative feedback, it can also be helpful to understand how your workforce capacity was impacted during the crisis so that you can better prepare for the next disruption. You can collect this data manually from managers who should be able to provide estimates of how many of their team members were unable to work, and for what time period. Or, if you have a workforce productivity analytics platform, the summaries and trends of actual user activity before, during, and after the crisis will give you a more precise, data-driven understanding of the crisis’ impact on operations. By taking the opportunity to reflect on how your operations were impacted, you can greatly improve your capacity planning and future contingency plans.
Leadership is about showing up
During increasingly unprecedented times, how you show up for your employees, partners, and customers during a crisis can significantly increase trust in your organization. We all know that leadership is about driving towards achieving goals. But in times of crisis, it’s about taking a necessary pause and offering comfort, compassion, and support in any way you can. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. And your actions have the ability to significantly improve your workforce’s morale and positively impact your organization’s reputation during a crisis, and well after it has subsided.
ActivTrak is a workforce productivity and analytics software company that helps teams understand how people work, whether in-office or remote. Our cloud-based user activity monitoring platform collects and analyzes data and provides insights to help organizations be more productive and operationally efficient. With more than 8,500 customers and over 250,000 users of its free version, ActivTrak’s award-winning solution can be configured in minutes to identify operational bottlenecks, flag operational compliance risks, and provide valuable insights that help employees and employers improve productivity outcomes. Sign up for a free account in minutes, no credit card required.