Covid-19: A time to be compassionate and rational

Blog posts

19 Mar 2020

Ed Griffin

Ed Griffin, Director of HR Consultancy and Research

In the past week we have seen shockwaves around the world as countries take more dramatic steps to try and reduce the spread of Covid-19. The actions range from the closing of borders and cancellation of public events to the closure of shops. It feels impossible to avoid noticing the impact of the virus on so many aspects of our lives. Businesses are warning of disastrous economic consequences and employers are rushing to put in place measures to deal with the potential impact of the virus continuing to spread.

Individual responses to the situation are varied and sometimes bewildering. They include those who think they will just get through it with a kind of “Blitz mentality”, and some apparently not bothered if they get Covid-19. Alongside this there are many people with underlying health conditions, or with elderly or sick relatives, or fearful that they will lose their livelihoods. People are being faced with challenges that they are unlikely to have had to deal with and may not have the resources they need.

I believe this is a time that employers need to actively demonstrate compassion and being rational in their actions. Many people’s behaviour right now is driven by fear and anxiety. That is understandable and it requires managers and HR colleagues to act sensitively to the way they treat people.

I’ve been fortunate to work as an HR Director in organisations where planning for crises and disaster was necessary and well-practiced. It taught me to think about clear roles and responsibilities, actions plans, communication protocols, and resources. I also realise that this means I may look at aspects of the current situation as a logic problem where actions need to be identified, rather than picking up immediately on the individual concerns that may exist.

But whilst the disciplines of Business Continuity Planning are vital for the safe running and survival of an organisation, it is also crucial that we act with compassion. When people are fearful and anxious they may not behave in the very best ways and find it hard to concentrate on their work. For those in jobs that can be done from home, there may be feelings of isolation or the panic that they may have to have their children at home at the same time as trying to work. For those in jobs that have to be done at their place of work, the feelings may be worse – will the business survive and will I have a job to go back to? It’s also important to understand the additional pressures that line managers and HR team members may experience – not only dealing with their own challenges, but also having to support others and trying to steer the organisation through very difficult times.

The reality is that our individual behaviours can make extraordinary differences to people. It is important that we take time to check with others, whether face-to-face or virtually. As employers meet a range of challenging day-to-day situations, many organisations will be facing an existential crisis. Before the arrival of the Coronavirus we had seen a number of major corporate failures, particularly in retail but also in travel and tourism. So organisations need to have robust plans for a reduced workforce and reduced activity. This requires a rational approach to understand and sustain your key business processes, to know where and how your people are, and how you will manage the finances of your organisation through such uncertainty.

It is also a time for regular clear communication to employees to ensure everyone has access to the appropriate official advice and understands what they need to do in different circumstances. And organisations need to ensure they have up to date policies and processes for dealing with working from home, working reduced hours, sickness absence, unpaid leave and compassionate leave. Unfortunately, it also means ensuring that your policies in relation to redundancy are also ready. Being focused now to ensure these are available means that employers are better placed to treat employees with fairness, consistency and dignity.

This is a critical time to ensure that your approach to health and wellbeing is robust, based on the real needs of your workforce and providing approaches that work. If you need to check on this, then you can use our health and well-being audit framework to do this. And finally if your focus is on supporting your workforce and helping to keep your organisation working, remember to seek the support you need to keep going.


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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.