How employers can help employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

Just over 100 years ago, the 1918 flu pandemic swept across the globe infecting approximately one quarter of the world’s population. While we have learned much from the Spanish flu pandemic, there remains one constant – fear. The plethora of information available from multiple sources ranges from sound and helpful to sensationalistic and harmful. The challenge is our tendency to engage with the latter rather than the former. As a result, increased stress is placed upon both employers and employees as they struggle to deal with multi-faceted concerns. Employers have the opportunity to help their employees navigate this unnerving terrain through sound employee relations practices – things we do each day without thinking. Now, however, it is important to place these practices front and center as guideposts.

  • Communication: Unless we provide ongoing, accurate, and clear communication, those with whom we work will look elsewhere for information to fill in the gaps. In order to prevent inappropriate information hoarding and build a platform of trust, consider who needs to know what, when, and why. Then, craft a message that is clear and succinct. Solid communication also involves engaging in active listening practices. The late Steven Covey put it best – seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood. By engaging in active, two-way communication, we begin to mitigate unfounded fears and address those that truly need to be confronted. For further ideas, check out this SHRM link.
  • Creative Connections: An increased number of employees are working remotely as well as practicing social distancing. For many, this is a new and isolating experience. Virtual coffee breaks have sprung up as ways to maintain connections. Other offices are making a point to greet their colleagues each morning. Consider ways you can help facilitate the connection. By finding ways to sustain community between employees, you offer the opportunity for folks to dispel and deal with unfounded fears. For further thought stimulators, take a look at this SHRM link.
  • Compassion: Regardless of where you fall on the change acceptance continuum, these are uncertain times, with evolving and sometimes contradictory missives put out. Our personal and work communities are not as stable as they were even a short time ago. It is not unusual during such times for folks to say and do things that are out of the norm for them. This is the time to step back and consider the whole person and what they might be experiencing. Compassion is a difficult skill to master because it challenges you to be caring while at the same time holding people (including yourself) accountable. To gain a broader perspective, read through this article from the Harvard Business Journal.

As a leader, colleague, and community member, there are actions you can take to help others as well as yourself navigate this new territory. Unlike what happened with the flu pandemic of 1918, we have the tools to help mitigate the unfounded fears of our employees and help them focus on the actions all of us can take. Keep the lines of communication open by maintaining connections and practicing compassion.

Related Practice Areas

Labor & Employment Law