Strategy & LeadershipHR EffectivenessCoronavirus: How HR can battle the business impact

Coronavirus: How HR can battle the business impact

HR can help businesses stay strong through coronavirus uncertainty by following these five key steps.

By David Liddle, CEO, TCM.


The impact of the Coronavirus is starting to hit businesses hard, with a growing number of employers banning travel or attendance at events, encouraging employees to work from home and putting contingency plans in place.

We are in uncharted territory, and uncertainty about the true level of threat and the longer-term implications is understandably causing fear and anxiety among staff.  Employees are worried about whether they are putting themselves and their families at risk by continuing to commute into work, for example, or are concerned about their job security if they are in an industry that is likely to feel the brunt of the disruption.

In a situation like this, where anxiety is heightened and there are often no clear answers to questions, it is easy for conflict to arise.  People will have opposing views about how serious the situation is, about what action should be taken, and about how their employer should support them if they do become ill or have to self-isolate.

HR has an important role to play in helping leaders understand how to create a climate where employees respect and support each other, and teams pull together, rather than letting differences of perspective and opinion cause damaging and time-consuming rifts.

Paying attention to the following issues will help reduce the likelihood of disputes arising over what to do and how to behave in an unprecedented and unfolding situation:

  1. Use values to guide decision making

Employers are faced with the challenging task of trying to balance business needs – and in some cases possibly even business survival – with their duty of care to look after their people.

In a fair and just, people-centred organisation, it is easier to make those difficult decisions, because staff connect easily to the organisation purpose and values, which act as a clear guide to what is the ‘right thing’ to do.  If ‘employee wellbeing’ is a core value, for example, it’s clear that managers shouldn’t be putting people under pressure to take part in events or activities that could potentially put them at risk.  If ‘respect’ is prized highly in the business, then employees should be encouraged to appreciate that not everyone will perceive the same level of threat or react to the situation in the same way – and that staff shouldn’t be made to feel as if they are over-reacting or letting people down if they make a personal decision to withdraw from certain activities.

  1. Encourage open dialogue

The Coronavirus is now the main topic of conversation on everyone’s lips – and you only have to listen to the discussions or read what is being said in the media to appreciate that people’s reactions differ widely. Some people will dismiss it as a storm in a teacup, while for others, it may be a trigger for anything from mild health related anxiety to a major panic attack.

Encouraging open and transparent, adult-to-adult dialogue in your teams will ensure that people have the opportunity to talk about what their concerns are and to feel that they have been listened to. It gives managers the opportunity to provide reassurance about the stance the company is taking (and why), and enables them to resolve conflicts as they arise quickly, through discussion. It also allows people to see that they are not necessarily alone in the way they are feeling, and encourages peers to support each other with compassion and empathy.

  1. Involve employees

When it comes to making the big decisions about the business response to the Coronavirus, senior leaders will of course have the final call. But it’s important to involve employees in the discussions about what changes need to be made, how work might be re-organised and what the new ‘rules of engagement’ might be.

Firstly, this is because staff working on the front line will often have the best idea of what will and won’t work and a deep understanding of the practical challenges that may arise. Secondly, if people have been part of the solution, and feel their views and ideas have been taken into account, they are much more likely to buy into whatever has been decided, rather than pushing back against something they feel has been imposed on them.

  1. Communicate regularly

The business clearly has a duty to keep people informed of the latest official guidance and to give staff regular up-dates on changes to policy around issues such as travel, attendance and sick pay. But HR also needs to encourage leaders to communicate regularly around purpose and priorities, to make sure that during difficult times, teams stay engaged and focused on the right things. Keeping everyone on message means there is less scope for confusion and frustration – for example, colleagues expecting collaboration from others on tasks which seem unimportant given the circumstances.

  1. Support the adjustment to new ways of working

The spotlight is firmly on flexible and remote working at the moment, as organisations look for ways to maintain continuity and service delivery without flouting government guidelines or compromising the health of their staff.

For many, this will be a completely new way of working – and if not managed appropriately, can lead to bad feeling or fractured relationships. Leaders need to be crystal clear within their teams about who will be working when, how inter-team communication will work, how any issues will be dealt with, and how performance will be managed. HR has an important role to play guiding managers on this and setting the ground rules for flexible working in terms of who it is open to and how it will work.

What do you think is HR’s role in protecting business against the impact of coronavirus? Tweet us @HRDCommunity or let us know your thoughts on LinkedIn.

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