Employee Experience
7 min read

The next HR question: How did you support employees during COVID-19?


Rachel Bolsu

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Around the globe, organizations are doing their best to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic as quickly as possible. But as companies work to mitigate the short-term impact of COVID-19, it’s critical that they also consider the long-term effects on employees and, as a result, the business.

As officials plan for a return to normalcy, all eyes are on HR. The big question on everyone’s mind: whether organizations supported employees through the crisis, and if so, how they did.

In this article, we’ll explore why it’s crucial to support employees during a crisis and share low-cost ideas to help get you started.

An opportunity to live your values

Being human doesn’t have to come at a cost. Studies have shown that employees and consumers alike are more likely to support mission-driven organizations. In fact, according to Accenture research, 63 percent of consumers globally prefer to purchase from companies with values that reflect their own. This challenging time presents an opportunity to build deeper trust and loyalty with employees and come out stronger on the other side. 

Even if you’re forced to make hard financial decisions, such as layoffs or pay cuts, there are ways to do it with empathy and compassion that won’t harm your company’s reputation as much as it could.

When employees feel cared for, they often do their jobs better. Something as simple as listening to their concerns and understanding their needs can be the key to prioritizing employee experience during a crisis.

Employees, customers, and prospects will remember how companies acted during the crisis. Likewise, candidates will want to know how the company supported employees before deciding whether they would join an organization.

The importance of long-term thinking

Employer brand is at stake

Candidates and employees aren’t the only ones looking at employer brand. Buyers also want to give their business to companies with practices that align with their values. With high-profile coverage of layoffs during the crisis and visibility into the employee experience on sites like Glassdoor, the spotlight is on how companies are handling challenging situations.

Stress impacts performance

After seeing colleagues laid off, it can be a challenge for the remaining employees to feel motivated. Fears about unemployment, illness, dependent care, and finances, as well as workplace grief, can all lower creativity and productivity. With this in mind, it’s important to provide resources to reduce employee stress. This could be something as simple as virtual movement practices or, with a little budget, virtual wellbeing resources like Calm or Talkspace. Below, we provide more tips for offering low-cost stress reduction resources that help empower employees to do their best work.

Crisis doesn’t last forever

This crisis will ultimately come to an end, so it’s crucial to consider how your company’s actions will inform success in the years that follow. If you neglect the employee experience during hardship, employee wellbeing is more likely to plummet, and employees will likely leave as soon as they have the opportunity. 

Beyond impacting your retention, this would affect your employer brand, and ultimately, your bottom line. Sometimes layoffs or pay cuts are unavoidable, but there is a way to handle them with compassion that will build employee loyalty and keep your reputation intact.

Listening is key

Employees have a lot of questions, doubts, fears, and unvoiced needs. It’s now more important than ever to ensure they feel heard. While under normal circumstances, pulsing can lead to survey fatigue and make employees feel like no action is being taken on their feedback. But during times of crisis, regular pulse surveys can help leadership prioritize meaningful initiatives to support employees.

Once you hear from your employees, you can identify and prioritize top-of-mind stressors, and effectively allocate time and resources. Budget during crises is often limited, but the results of your surveys could help you identify quick wins with big impact

Don’t neglect measuring the impact of your initiatives over time. Data doesn’t lie, and a bird’s-eye view will help you keep track of improvements in morale, productivity, and employee engagement. 

No budget? No problem 

While it’s always helpful to invest in wellbeing resources like mindfulness or fitness memberships, there are a wealth of low or no-cost initiatives you can offer that will be just as meaningful to your workforce. Consider the following five initiatives as a jumping-off point to support your employees through crisis:

  1. Train managers on emotional intelligence

Online trainings are a great (and often low-cost) way to equip everyone in the company with the skillset to navigate challenging times. Managers, in particular, have to find a way to bring compassion and empathy to their team members while also balancing their own challenges. It’s a heavy burden to bear, but by acknowledging it and providing them with the tools to help their team through it, managers will feel better supported by your organization. 

  1. Create opportunities to help employees stay connected

One of the biggest things that employees are missing during this time are the water cooler conversations, team bonding, and social aspects of work. Recurring virtual social meetings or check-ins can help employees stay connected and reintroduce work-life balance to this new remote-first world. Proactively schedule virtual lunches, leadership AMAs, HR office hours, or group exercise classes to help reignite the connections traditionally made in the office.

  1. Free resources for mental health

Even if you don’t have the budget to invest in corporate mindfulness subscriptions, there are countless resources available to support employee mental health. Meditation podcasts, yoga videos, or even free counseling through employee assistance programs (EAP) are easily accessible. Employees may just need a little push to prioritize their wellbeing.

  1. Transitional support

During trying times, businesses can’t always avoid regrettable cutbacks. If layoffs are unavoidable, consider offering resources to the affected employees to help them transition. It could be as simple as offering to be a reference, reviewing their resume, or sharing resources for logistics such as filing for unemployment or understanding your health insurance coverage.

Additionally, offer emotional support to employees who remain after layoffs. Providing virtual (or in-person once you return) HR office hours, manager 1:1s, or counseling resources will help employees stay motivated and engaged after seeing the company undergo rapid change.

  1. Work-life balance

The traditional boundaries between work and life have been blurred in the face of the crisis. Remote work comes with its own set of difficulties, and it’s even more challenging when one’s home becomes a place for work, exercise, dependent care, and relaxation. 

One way to support this transition is to provide a stipend for setting up a home office. Whether it’s a desk, a new chair, or a second monitor, a little can go a long way in terms of helping employees adapt to the new normal. If this is not feasible, consider sharing resources to help employees organize their space more effectively. If this is not feasible, consider sharing resources to help employees organize their space more effectively.

Additionally, enabling employees to prioritize their wellbeing will help them keep burnout at bay. Encourage your employees to set clear working hours, disconnect when they’re not working, work flexible hours to take care of kids or family members, and take the time they need to cope with the emotional stressors they’re feeling. Many people are grappling with grief now, so it’s important to support a work-life balance that creates time for self-care. 

Look to the future

If organizations can’t uphold their values during difficult times, then those values didn’t mean much to begin with. Additionally, companies are more likely to fail if they can’t support their people through challenges. Employees, candidates, customers, and prospects will remember which companies supported employee wellbeing and prioritized employee experience during the coronavirus crisis, and which didn’t. 

As challenging and destabilizing as this crisis is for HR teams – and for every single human on the planet – HR leaders are facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen trust and engagement by showing up for their people, and putting culture first. 


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