How to Manage Your Workforce Through a Crisis

Leaders are facing an unparalleled workplace experience. The degree of uncertainty we are now navigating is extraordinary for most businesses everywhere in the world. Nobody knows when this sanitary crisis is going to end or what is going to happen in a couple of months from now. And nobody can predict the impact on employees, customers, even the supply chain.

A crash course in crisis management

Stormy waters are business as usual. Now, the difference comes from the combination of sanitary dilemmas and the economics of a deep crisis. Deanna Foster, associate director at Harvard Business Publishing, explains this very well:

VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) has been in the business vocabulary for over 30 years and yet we’ve seldom been confronted with the degree of uncertainty we’re now facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Where next? How bad? How long? How will our organization—our employees, customers, partners, supply chain—be impacted? How should we respond?

If you’re a leader feeling the pressure of uncertainty, it’s essential to have tools under your belt to help guide your workforce through stormy waters. Whether it’s the current global pandemic or a future crisis, use the following strategies to help manage your team, including some actionable tips to get started ASAP.

Practice transparent communication

When working through a crisis, you need to keep your team in the loop. If you try to pretend it’s business as usual or wait until you have a perfect and polished response, it will backfire. Gossip will circulate, and your staff will inevitably grow increasingly uneasy. Be honest and authentic with your team, don’t keep them in the dark. When your employees are well-informed, they can pivot, adapt, and perform better.

Put it in action: Explain the crisis, how it’s impacting your organization, and potential steps forward. Telling your employees that you don’t have a clear answer yet is better than radio silence, which leaves them to speculate potentially worse conclusions. Take as many team meetings on conference calls (voice or video) as you can. Emails and instant messages leave room for misunderstandings and ambiguity.

Learn more about transparent leadership with our guide Bring Transparency to Your Workplace in 5 Easy Steps.

Lead with empathy

Several months into this pandemic, and it’s still a difficult, challenging, and confusing time for most individuals. Stay-at-home orders vary, yet many are working from home. Thus families are cohabitating from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.

A recent Ginger survey of U.S. workers discovered that 69 percent find this the most stressful event in their professional career, and that’s across every age demographic. What’s more, 70 percent of workers agree that they and their colleagues are significantly less productive due to stress surrounding COVID-19. 

To counteract these sky-high levels of anxiety, and effectively manage your team, strive to lead with empathy. A recent Businessolver report found that 93 percent of employees want to work for an empathetic employer.

Understand that a crisis puts your entire organization in a unique situation. Accept that this is an unprecedented and challenging time and lead from a place of understanding.

Put it in action: Don’t start with your team’s production list on calls. Instead, ask them how they’re doing — how they’re really doing. Practice active listening. Ask if they have any pain points or external stressors that are making their job difficult. Note their answers and brainstorm ways you can help them overcome these obstacles.

Offer remote mentorship

In addition to making sure that your team has access to all of the essential remote technologies, a remote mentorship program can also be valuable during this time so that each team member has a point of contact. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, mentorship is even more valuable to organizational culture and remote workers during the pandemic:

Great mentors show up and engage with mentees in crises and uncertain times, even when that requires creativity and adaptation. Mentors play a pivotal role in safeguarding retention and building organizational commitment, particularly in times of crisis.

Put it in action: Implement a mentorship program for additional support of distributed team members. Check out some of our guides for even more remote help:

Focus on mental health

The same Businessolver report found that 92 percent of employees view companies that offer emergency assistance as more empathetic. And remember, employees want to work for empathetic companies. A global pandemic certainly qualifies as an emergency.

How can you provide more assistance? The report suggests that employees want to see a variety of resources to support mental health. Consider how you can provide a broad spectrum of support and coverage to make sure all employees are taken care of.

Put it in action: Make sure your team understands available mental health resources. Is telehealth therapy or counseling covered by health plans? Do you have allowances for digital gym memberships? Continue leading empathetically and provide a safe and welcoming space for your staff to discuss mental health issues.

Manage your workforce starting with you

You can be a great leader during a crisis, but if you don’t handle your own challenges, the rest will fall flat. Research from Gallup found that managers are more likely than employees to experience constant or frequent burnout. Here’s why:

Managers are responsible for fostering positive employee experiences and addressing stressors at work. It’s their duty to set clear expectations, remove barriers, facilitate collaboration, and ensure that employees feel fully supported to do their best work. How employees feel about their job is largely on the manager’s shoulders.

That’s a lot of pressure in the best of circumstances, let alone during a crisis.

Therefore, while the previous strategies are important, I kept the most crucial lesson at the end. Take care of yourself so you can effectively lead others. That’s it, that’s the most important one because without it you won’t function properly.

Good luck!

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