How to Lead and Manage Your Business Well during a Crisis

The global pandemic has necessitated businesses to adapt on the fly. This article discusses the challenges businesses are currently facing and provides tips for managing one during a crisis.

Challenging times call for effective leadership. Especially in the time of COVID-19, people are looking to their leaders for support amid the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Business leaders across the globe have addressed their employees’ need for safety and stability at the onset of the public health crisis. Companies have allowed people to work from home, equipping them with the necessary tools for remote work. Employers provide onsite workers with personal protective equipment and implement safety protocols in their workplaces. 

Among the hardest-hit during the pandemic, small businesses have acquired different forms of financial assistance and some online marketing tools to ensure the survival of their companies. To an extent, such efforts give employees a sense of stability.

While these COVID-19 responses are helpful during the early phase of the crisis, organisations have to step up as employees’ needs are evolving.

The impact of COVID-19 crisis on workers

When talking about the effects of the crisis on businesses, what often comes to mind are losses, disruptions, layoffs, and closures. 

But have you considered how COVID-19 affects your employees? What are they going through? What can you do to help them stay engaged and effective at work?

Managing a crisis starts with fully understanding the most pressing employee concerns. Recent research shows that most workers worry about their financial security and health during the pandemic.

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Take a look at these statistics:

  • Despite working remotely and reaping its benefits, over 80% of employees said the COVID-19 crisis was considerably affecting their daily work lives, based on McKinsey survey findings.
  • 80% of employees agreed to stay home if they show any symptoms. 
  • More than half (56%) were concerned about their productivity due to stress and anxiety. 
  • Other top issues affecting workers today are related to family (25%) i.e., childcare, homeschooling, and family health, as well as productivity (24%) i.e., remote work and managing schedules.
  • Asked how employers could help them during the pandemic, 72% of employees said they needed reassurance that they would not lose their jobs and would receive paid leave. 
  • 68% said companies should provide daily updates to keep employees informed during the crisis.
  • Receiving emotional support (65%) and online mental health resources (55%) during the pandemic is also important for employees.

How well companies respond to difficult situations affects employees, too. The McKinsey survey results on the employee experience during the pandemic reveal some useful insights for employers.

  • Employees who are satisfied with their business leaders’ COVID-19 response are six times more likely to have positive well-being and four times more likely to be engaged than those whose employers have handled the crisis poorly.
  • Employees are 55.1% more likely to be engaged if they receive non-monetary work recognition. 
  • Job security and financial stability drive the greatest improvement in employee engagement  (52.9%) and well-being (53.3%).
  • Trust in leadership leads to a 23.7% improvement in work effectiveness. 

Why is crisis management important during COVID-19?

A crisis management strategy will help you limit the negative impact of COVID-19 not only on your business but also your people.

Employees expect their employers to handle the crisis properly and look after them in these highly stressful times. Failure to do that can compromise their health and well-being, which can have serious consequences on overall business operations.

7 strategies to lead your team through a crisis

Considering the effects of COVID-19 on the workplace, business leaders have to act swiftly to address employees’ concerns about the crisis.

Here are different ways to demonstrate effective positive leadership during the pandemic.

Conduct a COVID-19 crisis leadership audit

It’s hard to become a better leader—especially during a crisis—if you don’t know what your people think about how you’re responding to the situation. Since you don’t get to meet your team on a face-to-face basis, you can’t second-guess your employees’ thoughts.

Send out an employee pulse survey regularly to find out what your employees need the most right now, as well as to get feedback on whether you’re meeting those needs or not. The insights you’ll gain from the pulse surveys will guide your next steps to improve your crisis management strategies.

You can use the 6Q employee engagement survey system to start creating your own poll and audit your COVID-19 crisis leadership. 

Develop an internal crisis communications plan

If you have not done it already, create a clear plan on how you’ll communicate with employees about COVID-19 moving forward. Your goal is to minimise the stress and anxiety your employees are experiencing throughout the crisis.

Work with your managers and HR team to come up with a plan that will effectively address communication needs and issues in your organisation during the pandemic.

Some critical points to decide on include the following:

  • Communications channels to use for reaching employees at all levels (i.e., email, videos, intranet, FAQs, etc.)
  • A point person or designated team who will manage the crisis communication process and respond to employee concerns
  • The right messaging for communicating company decisions during the pandemic
  • Protocols for reporting possible COVID-19 cases
  • A central hub where employees can find all the crisis-related information they need
  • Measures to prevent misinformation from spreading in your organisation

Keep everyone informed about what’s going on

Communicating less during a crisis to avoid mistakes may do more harm than good for your business operations and employees. If people are kept in the dark about what’s happening in your company, they’ll become more anxious and frustrated.

You don’t want such a scenario to happen because you’ll end up with distracted and demoralised employees whose productivity and quality of work would suffer immensely. 

Open and transparent communication is a critical part of effective crisis leadership. Business leaders should regularly update employees on the company status—whether it’s good or bad. 

Address your employees’ fears and concerns about job security, the company’s financial health, and what lies ahead for everyone. Over-communicate if you must. You may need to deliver your message multiple times. This way, your team will feel informed and empowered.

If your business is doing well, reassure people of their continued employment to ease their worries. If things aren’t stable and you need to let some workers go, inform them as soon as possible. 

Don’t break the bad news at the last minute. An early notice gives people ample time to plan and adjust accordingly. Take your cue from how Airbnb Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky announced the layoff in the company with honesty, transparency, and empathy.

Help employees overcome survivor guilt

If your company has laid off some people, employees left behind experience a mix of emotions (guilt, fear, anger, and anxiety) or what is known as “survivor guilt.”

In such trying times, HR professionals and managers need to effectively lead those struggling with survivor guilt to increase employee morale. 

Have a plan in place to minimise the effects of survivor guilt. A Leadership IQ study found that 74% of employees whose jobs were spared had a productivity dip after a layoff, while 69% said the quality of their company’s product or service had declined.

The study also found that employees whose managers were open, visible, and approachable were 70% less likely to have a productivity decline and 65% less likely to report lower quality of their company’s product or service.

Here are some ways to help your survivors deal with survivor guilt:

  • Acknowledge what your remaining staff is feeling, listen to their concerns, and honour the valuable contributions of those who have left.
  • Encourage employees to allow themselves to grieve the loss and reach out to their former colleagues.
  • Communicate the reasons for the downsizing and help employees understand why the company has arrived at the decision.
  • Let the remaining employees know how you’re supporting laid-off people i.e., providing references and referrals.

Ensure continuous relationship building

With most or all of your employees working remotely, it’s quite a challenge to build a sense of community—something that everyone needs to cope with the crisis.

But that doesn’t mean you should stop investing in relationship-building. In fact, it’s best to exert more effort in bringing your employees together—albeit online—to work toward a common goal.

Use available technology that allows you to hold virtual events for employees, such as town hall meetings, peer recognition sessions, and talent shows. 

Take this as an opportunity to recognise outstanding employees and show appreciation for their contributions to the company. You may also ask employees who embody your company values to share their stories and inspire others.

Be readily available

As a responsible business leader, it’s important to make yourself available for all employee concerns throughout the crisis. It doesn’t mean you should be connected with your people 24/7. Rather, employees will appreciate your reassurance that you’re there for them and you’ll get through this together.

Being available also means creating a safe space for employees to share their concerns and  listen to them. Let them know your willingness to support them in whatever way you can. 

Provide mental health support

Make sure all your employees get the support they need to deal with the anxiety, social isolation, and other mental health issues during the COVID-19 crisis.

Consider offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a benefit. EAP is a mental health service that helps employees manage work-related stress through counselling. By providing such kind of support, you help employees improve not just their work performance but also their well-being.

Try to look for an EAP service provider near you. If you already have one, remind your employees to avail of its services.

In Summary

As a leader, you can make a huge difference in helping your team deal with the crisis. Time to step up your leadership and steer your people and business to resilience. 

Focus on how you’ll ensure your employees’ financial security, health, and well-being. In doing so, you’ll earn your employees’ trust and confidence in your leadership—and you keep them engaged and effective at work.

After all, people are your company’s greatest asset. You owe it to them to provide support at the time they need it the most.


About the Author

Aaron Chichioco is the chief content officer (CCO) and one of the web designers of Design Doxa. Aside from his expertise on web/mobile design and development, he also has years of experience in digital marketing, branding, customer service, eCommerce and business management as well.

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