HR and crisis management during COVID-19

April 22, 2020 | David Daly 5 Mins read

More attention on HR

HR departments usually need to keep pace with things like employment law, health and safety policies, payroll and benefits and other issues that relate to the day-to-day running of a multinational company when it comes to looking out for the well-being of the employees. Even the most seasoned of HR veterans could not possibly have predicted the new level of expectation being placed under HR department due to an unprecedented global pandemic that has swept around the world with staggering speed.

COVID-19 is here to stay for the short term at least, remote working is in effect for a huge number of office employees, and the HR Department needs to provide effective responses to a new list of priorities. While this is new territory for everybody, only specific parts of the multinational set up are being called upon to lead. CEO, CFOs and HR management are now expected to outline processes, communicate regularly and lead by example. In this article we take a look at some of the steps that HR department can take as part of a crisis management response to the ongoing worldwide challenge the Coronavirus outbreak has presented.

Establish a Crisis Management Team

Now is the right time for the HR manager to look at their team and assess what adaptable skill sets exist that can play a key role in a crisis management team. The role of this team is to provide regular support and communications to a dispersed workforce likely working from home. A mixture of skills is required for this team to be effective and consistent; planning and management, communication, empathy and positivity, flexibility and understanding along with an attitude of patience & perseverance.

The nature of COVID- 19 means that things are changing day by day and nobody knows if the plans that are put in place for this week will still be applicable next week. The focus can only be on the here and now and what is in the immediate control of the HR Department. But having a team in place with clearly defined roles and responsibilities will help with the distribution of tasks as well as matching skill sets and experience to new or changing requirements.

Establishing a crisis management team sends a message to company leadership that preparations are in place for an effective response to whatever is coming. It also serves to reassure employees that somebody is looking out for them, and action is taking place behind the scenes to predict and respond to COVID-19 and the inevitable disruption that it brings to the working environment.

Employee Communications

Regular, helpful and transparent communications are crucial to navigating a time of crisis. Employees need to be kept informed about what is happening at the highest level of management in their company. They also need as much information as possible around individual roles, their employee rights and any policy changes that may impact their salary, working hours or contracts.

Measured wording, empathy and appropriate communication tools for delivery are vital here as employee morale, motivation and future loyalty can be influenced by the manner in which communications are distributed during a time of crisis. A sense that employee welfare is a priority needs to filter into all communications at the appropriate times. Employees may be reasonable people, but it is important to recognize that some may be fragile, and most will have concerns during this period of unexpected upheaval.

Clarity is of major importance during this time, any communications that are vague or unclear will only result in increased levels of anxiety. A regularly updated set of FAQs that can be accessed easily is one way of responding to the most common questions being aimed at the human resources team during this crisis. Honesty will also be valued much more than unnecessary filler material, if you don’t know something it is best to just be honest and say you don’t know.

Flexibility and a little bit of creativity may be required for the manner in which human resources choose to deliver these crisis communications. Take advantage of all secure digital communication methods at your disposal such as video technology, social media and mobile apps. A great deal of emphasis should be placed on security before selecting the most appropriate method. Zoom video conferencing has proven to be very popular with employees around the world and GoToMeeting is an alternative video conferencing app that many are turning to.

COVID-19 Policy Updates

This is an important time for HR departments to review all relevant policies currently in place and assess their suitability to changes in the working environment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. HR, employee and workplace policies that work fine in normal circumstances may now need some updates which recognize and account for the very unusual circumstances COVID-19 has placed us in.

Official procedures around benefits relating to sick leave in particular will need to be looked at. Does the current HR policy in relation to paid leave and sick leave remain suitable against the background of COVID-19? If it needs to be adjusted, this needs to happen quickly, and all employees need to be informed as soon as possible. Health care policies covering employees as part of an employee benefit scheme will also need to be examined and amended where necessary.

Company protocols around remote working and the use of company owned technology such as apps and communication tools will likely also benefit from a policy update that reflects the new working environment that office workers are currently operating in.

Annual leaves of absence, public holidays and compassionate leave policies may also require adjusting or updating. Health and safety guidelines for those working from home and making occasional visits to a largely empty office will also need looking at. Payroll policies may be required to reflect knew payrun elements such as government employee assistance that has been introduced in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

It also makes sense to encourage employees to access and read company policies around business continuity plans and IT recovery actions. Emergencies are more likely to occur during a period of extended crisis- people need to know what to do and where to access available information.

Webinar Training

We are fortunate to live and work in an era of advanced video conferencing technology- this technology allows for remote learning and is a good platform for delivering essential information and training during a time of crisis in which face to face meetings or office based training is not feasible.

Webinars can be used to advise employees where to find updated policies, daily communication bulletins, FAQs and help center responses. Webinars are also a good way to provide additional training for staff who are required to cover tasks for colleagues who are sick, absent or unable to deliver work remotely.

The COVID-19 crisis unfortunately means reduced hours for some workers or a certain level of downtime, depending on the nature of their job responsibilities. This can be an opportunity to take advantage of webinar-based training to upskill and learn something new. HR teams should look to develop initiatives that allows staff to access online training remotely whenever they wish or need to. Interactive online training is something that can help with employee engagement and morale.

Mental Health Support during Coronavirus

It is important to recognize the likelihood of additional stress and strain experienced by employees during a time of crisis. HR departments will be expected to focus on the human side of things and address mental health issues that are likely to be more prevalent now. Remote working can be challenging, and many employees are now having to balance the delivery of work responsibilities with child-care and daily household duties. Many employees will be unused and unsuited to a remote work environment and may struggle to cope. Others may have existing underlying mental health issues that are exacerbated during a time of crisis. HR need to support with empathy and provide details around where employees can seek professional help if it is needed.  Legal and financial issues can add to problems increasing stress levels. All the problems that people had before the pandemic struck still exist and life must somehow find a way to go on. HR professionals that makes an effort to communicate empathy and understanding with their employees may find that these employees return to work more appreciative and loyal. This is a time for multinationals everywhere to invest in their people and look after them using all means at their disposal.


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Using Payslip, we can manage all our payrolls across nine in-country vendors on one platform. When the global Covid-19 pandemic arose, it was not an issue from a payroll perspective, and critically getting everyone paid. The Payslip platform enabled continuity for our international payroll service including the fast and seamless implementation of the Payslip Employment Self Service during this time.

Colin Smith

Payroll Manager, LogMeIn

With business and employee growth rates of above 50%, we rely on our vendors to deliver on time, every time. Payslip’s workflow automation, enables Phorest to manage our payroll provider process – data driven, real time and transparent. Payslip saves us time so we can focus on our business growth.

Ana Kelly

International Payroll Manager, Phorest