Supporting Your Employees in Trying Times

Women working from home due to COVID-19

How are your employees doing right now? How are you – as an employer – doing? 

Tough questions. COVID-19 is uncharted territory. And it’s affecting everybody differently. Some people seem to be moving along seemingly unaffected, others are exceptionally stressed. 

The question for employers is – what to do? 

Communication, say experts, is key; enough to confer a sense of confidence; not so much to drive panic. “We’re working tirelessly for colleagues across the country,” read the letter from our CHRO Maribeth Bearfield to all Bright Horizons employees. “We will be posting regular updates to make sure you have all the latest details about the steps we’re taking and what you need to do.” There was also a spot to submit questions and read a full list of details. Exactly what we needed. 

What else are people talking about?  

Stay ahead of news: Employees in one company learned about sick colleagues from chat rooms. People on cruise ships got alarming news from TV. Both are cautionary tales of why, in our 24-hour news world, getting out in front is so important, even if you’re short on details. As HBR put it, “You can’t manage a secret.”  

Leverage your strengths: Handwashing pictorials, long famous in our Bright Horizons child care centers, now instruct all of us in our home office. Culture is our cornerstone, and Maribeth reminded us to look for ways colleagues can help each other. Whatever your superpower is – use it. 

Provide normalcy: Crises can make strategy sessions and PowerPoints seem beside the point. But business as usual has an important role to play, providing much-needed structure amid the chaos. 

Show the steps you’re taking: Psychologists say there’s a reason people snap up things like toilet paper in uncertain times – it confers some sense of control. Hearing what the company’s doing has the same effect. Whether you’re launching a channel on the company app or you have teams working closely with health officials to address office safety, communicate it. It will speak volumes. 

Define your plan: Don’t wait for an emergency to decide your course of action. Some offices are exhaustively testing networks. Others are actually rehearsing for a completely virtual operation. Whatever your plan is, make sure people know about it, and where the point of contact is. 

Nod to the mental health issue: Physical symptoms are but one COVID-19 effect. Anxiety is the other. “It’s to be anticipated that some people may be frightened, some people may be sad,” New York’s health commissioner told that city’s residents, reminding them to seek counseling. Employers should do the same, highlighting resources, support groups, benefits – whatever you’ve got to support mental health. Such messages bring anxiety into daylight, and remind people they’re not alone. 

Highlight your support net: Benefits -- sick days, virtual health care, financial wellness benefits, back-up care -- reinforce your commitment to employees. There’s never been a better time to remind people of what they have. 

Finally, above all else, remember point number one: communicate. Everyone’s in uncharted territory. And employers, writes the Harvard Kennedy School‘s Allison Shapira, are like the pilot during turbulence – reassuring people through the uncertainty. 

Employees want that, too.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

March 12, 2020

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.