‘Don’t let a good crisis go to waste’
HR experts offer advice for navigating the pandemic
In addition to public health concerns, the coronavirus crisis also has left companies dealing with a raft of urgent policy and personnel issues, ranging from telework and child care to paid sick leave.
As the virus spread across Virginia, human resources management experts counseled companies to handle coronavirus-related HR issues with creativity and empathy.
“In times like this, managers and others like to lean on policy and law as a crutch and use those as decision-making guardrails when, in fact, the first order of business should be empathy,” says Michael Latsko, president of HR Virginia, the state human resources council.
“This sounds like a cliché, but don’t let a good crisis go to waste. Use this opportunity to really test some of your policies and procedures and how things operate in your business because maybe you need to change the way you’re doing things. This could be with us for a while.”
One immediate need is grappling with the transition to telework — and with managers’ concerns about whether employees are actually working.
“Part of me thinks we could actually see a spike in productivity,” says William Becker, an associate professor at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business whose research focuses on engagement and emotions at work. “One thing that people really want in their work is their autonomy.”
Becker recommends that companies consider job sharing or splitting duties or tasks among several workers in order to provide employees flexibility for needs such as child care or taking care of an ill family member.
“Employers need to think creatively about all of the work that can be done and where it can be done, and who can do it,” Latsko agrees. For example, workers who are contracted to do landscaping work could instead take home a project such as folding brochures in order to continue earning income.
Latsko cautions HR professionals to be aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and other Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws. HR professionals should also make sure to keep up with any coronavirus-related federal legislation or directives that could impact company policies such as which workers are eligible to receive paid sick leave.
Linda Fisher Thornton, a human resources management adjunct associate professor at the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies and CEO of Leading in Context LLC, a leadership development consulting firm, recommends following a “do not harm” policy that ensures that sick employees will be able to stay home.
Under normal circumstances, a company makes benefits decisions such as who receives paid sick leave based on factors such as cost of benefits, shift coverage and overall budgetary impact, Thornton says. “In a pandemic, though,” she adds, “cost, convenience and routine are less important than keeping people alive, safe and well.”
Businesses may be concerned about short-term negative impacts on the bottom line, but these costs could prevent higher future expenses, such as covering sick days for employees infected by coworkers who couldn’t afford to stay home, Thornton adds.
Becker reminds leaders that losing the faith of their employees can have longer-term repercussions than temporary financial hits.
“This will be an interesting time where people either get closer to their organization,” Becker says, “or they move much further away from their organization on an emotional engagement level.”
Follow the links below to read the rest of the stories in this Virginia Business special report about the impact of the coronavirus crisis: