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Organizational Guidance on How To Respond To Employees During the COVID-19 Outbreak

While differing types of transitions have become a daily part of the business environment, organizations have little guidance on how to respond to employees during this COVID-19 epidemic. People and organizations struggle with what to do. The ability to adapt to COVID-19 change requirements doesn’t come easily as everyone is both effected and concurrently trying to manage changing requirements.

Other reasons for our current difficulty in responding include:

  1. We have little experience with it.
  2. We really don’t understand (yet) our expectations of the outcome.
  3. We have little to no control over it.
  4. Information comes from multiple sources, some good, some bad. We have trouble discriminating between valid information and noise.
  5. Given social isolation (read quarantine) we have little involvement.
  6. We know this is all important, to us, our families and friends, and those who are alone.
  7. We get mixed messages around whether we can trust the decision-makers.

While we are all mostly committed to doing all that is necessary to do, or lack of involvement and information, the scope of the change and the rate of change is draining our energies. Doing nothing is not what socially and occupationally purposeful people are used to doing.

Anxiety, uncertainty, loss of control, avoidance of others, self-preservation, decreased productivity, and stress are the recipients of the energy we most recently, but formerly, used at work, in the gym, and in our social interactions. Our work has changed, and our social and recreational lives are in flux. In some cases, our physical, financial, and spiritual lives have changed. Many are experiencing multiple transitions all at the same time (personally and occupationally) and stress levels are elevated.

There are personal and organizational things to do.

Personal Responses:

  1. Recall a major change in your life event you have successfully navigated in the past. What supports (people, exercise, perspective, faith, patience, trust) helped you successfully navigate that transition? Enlist those same supports now. Know that this too will pass.
  2. Succeed at other things. Depending on your geography, mulch your yard, plant tomatoes, clean the attic and the garage, read Hemingway.
  3. Revisit your companies mission statement. Remember who you are occupationally.
  4. Check in with those friends you haven’t talked to in a while. Call them. Consider the possibility that they too are anxious to hear from you.
  5. Check in on those who are alone. Call them.
  6. Find ways to laugh.
  7. Meet your occupational goals as much as you can. Your productive work practices are a major source of reinforcement.
  8. Listen to your company communications. Be prepared to ask questions of your employer. Expect answers.
  9. Help your management team. Remember, they too are equal victims of the virus.
  10. Expect lots of mistakes from your company. Few are trained in how to manage this situation. Model that you can tolerate some miscommunications and other mistakes.

Organizational Responses:

  1. Check in on the employees. Find out how they are, especially those who may be alone.
  2. Open communications. People want to hear information, unfiltered and consistent. Make communications clear, honest, consistent, and on-going. Communicate across all employees.
  3. Set realistic production goals.
  4. Set short-term goals and plot progress toward realistic targets. Protect employees and give them a shared sense of occupational and work community purpose. Provide clarity and direction.
  5. Support staff development. Let employees take on additional responsibility for their development. Perhaps now is a great time to provide the needed tools to help them develop. On-line video classes and e-learning opportunities about. Make sure the classes support and align their development with company requirements.
  6. Call employees. Find out how they are and if there is anything they may need. Do this regularly. Triage their requests. Respond where you can and refer to others where you cannot.
  7. Establish two-way communications. Create a way for them to get answers to questions. They will have them.
  8. If in healthcare, call former employees and those who are retired. Ask them if they are willing and able to return.
  9. Communicate with team leaders to establish accountability requirements. Hold people accountable.
  10. Demonstrate leadership. Make sure management understands the visionary role they play in anchoring people and making this transition work.
  11. Remember, the supply of jobs is much greater than the supply of workers. You will want employees back when COVID-19 is over.

The spread of the COVID-19 virus put many companies and organizations in a situation they have never experienced and learning how to navigate the organization through this transition is difficult. If we as individuals, and we as organizations, treat each other with empathy and open communication we will be more successful leading each other through this transition.