By maintaining a human focus during a crisis, leaders can build resilience among their workers and strengthen their organizations for the future.
The unmitigated stress of a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic can have serious consequences for employees and employers alike. Studies show that workers who are distressed are significantly less productive than those who aren’t, and customer service levels fall as employee stress rises. Workers’ stress levels can also have a direct financial impact on a business, resulting in increased health insurance claims, short- and long-term disability, and costs related to employee turnover.
Yet organizations can play a vital role in relieving the stress associated with a crisis. By taking steps to develop resilience in individual workers, leaders can provide stability in the short term while better positioning their organizations to thrive once the crisis has passed. Leaders can help workers manage stress and build resilience in three phases:
Readiness. In this preparatory phase, leaders can support resilience by creating a work environment in which employees feel they can be their authentic selves without fear of negative consequences. Organizations can provide well-being benefits and programs that are culturally relevant based on their employee population. Businesses can also consider corporate social impact activities as a way to demonstrate their commitment to employees. For example, many companies give their employees paid time off to volunteer or vote in elections.
Response. First, it’s important for leaders to understand the unique needs and challenges of their employees, and to consider the workforce among the key stakeholders who are relying on the organization’s stability. During this period, organizations take action in response to a crisis, seeking to prevent or mitigate employee stress.
‘Companies that build employees’ resilience during a crisis will likely be better prepared to take on the challenges that come with rebuilding or adapting a business model in the aftermath.’
It’s also critical for leaders to prioritize regular communication with workers, focusing on empathy, authenticity, and transparency. With crisis communications, demonstrating a connection and commitment to the workforce is important for maintaining trust—and that trust can be critical to recovery for workers and for the organization as a whole.
Finally, leaders can ensure that workers are equipped for and supported in new work settings, whether those include remote environments or traditional workplaces that may have become more hazardous. Leaders can also examine existing well-being programs to identify areas that need to be supplemented in light of the specific crisis. For example, many companies have augmented dependent care stipends or expanded access to telehealth resources since the pandemic began.
Recovery. As they adapt to a changed environment, some workers may be fully prepared to take on new challenges, while others may need additional time or assistance to mitigate lingering stress. Organizations can help by reassuring employees that resources will continue to be available and ensuring that people feel comfortable accessing them. For example, many companies facilitated or encouraged peer-driven employee support groups after the 9/11 attacks. By making an ongoing commitment to employees even as a crisis recedes, organizations can build a foundation of trust.
The tests an organization faces during a crisis can present an opportunity for growth. People may develop a greater sense of appreciation for life and relationships and find new wells of internal strength, confidence, purpose, and meaning. An organization that has embraced its responsibility to workers during a crisis may benefit from the same effects. Companies that build employees’ resilience during a crisis will likely be better prepared for the challenges that come with rebuilding or adapting a business model in the aftermath. From that point on, leaders can forge ahead with their employees as a community: resilient and ready to take on the future.
—by Jen Fisher, U.S. chief well-being officer; Nicole Nodi, research lead, Center for Integrated Research; and Brenna Sniderman, executive director, Center for Integrated Research, all with Deloitte Services LP