Five Ways Your Company's HR Can Respond to Crisis Situations

Lea Kalinić, HR Generalist

Careers

30.03.2020.

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"There it is again, everything is shaking!"

I heard my colleague say, and on my laptop screen I saw her look out the windows.

"Maybe it’s the wind?"
"No, it's really shaking." 
"I can feel it too."
"Can you hear the rumble?"

This dialogue last week interrupted what was thankfully the end of our HR meeting. It took us a few moments to calm down. In several open windows on my laptop I could see three smiling but slightly scared faces of my dear colleagues. Soon we said goodbye and started working on all the things we had planned just before this new earthquake.

So, what was our plan?

Understanding the situation

I can say that no one has prepared me for events like these through college. How could they? Even if someone had tried to prepare us, would they have prepared a scenario of two contradictory crises; a pandemic and a natural disaster at the same time? And would this be followed by snowstorms in mid-spring? I doubt that anyone would be so creative, and if they were, students would say something like, “Why are we practicing reactions to such unrealistic scenarios? We should be prepared for something that could actually happen.” I know I would have thought the same.

This time is and will be filled with challenges and difficulties for the whole world. It’s not easy for anyone to deal with everything that has been going on in the last few weeks and especially these last few days. Unfortunately, many companies had to close their doors and all they can do is hope for these isolation conditions to pass quickly, while others, like Serengeti, can still function through the home office. Many companies have allowed and supported work from home before, but work from home with all these special occasions that have happened these days is something new for everyone and there are many distractions and challenges that don’t exist in a ‘regular’ home office.

Communicating, maintaining and creating

The first thing we agreed on as a department was to make daily meetings via video calls. During these meetings, we inform each other about the work we have done, potential challenges and obstacles and we distribute activities and tasks between us.

We decided to split our workload into two parts: maintaining everything we've done so far and creating new appropriate content. The first part could easily be done from home because most of our work is done online and now everything can just continue smoothly. The only thing different now is the selection interviews which are now being held via Skype and the online onboarding process, which is regulated by our new procedure Onboarding in times of crisis.

Understanding employee’s needs

According to Maslow's Pyramid of Needs (see figure below), before climbing to the next level of the pyramid and satisfying some of the ‘higher’ needs, we must satisfy our basic needs or (in other words) all the levels beneath.

Maslow's Pyramid of Needs
Maslow's Pyramid of Needs

Although this theory has its imperfections, through it Maslow explained the following: if we haven’t fulfilled our basic physiological needs, we’ll have a hard time focusing on other things. For example, if we haven’t slept in 4 days (due to earthquakes), according to Maslow, our brains will have a hard time devoting to relationships, creativity, or achievement (work).

In this current situation, the basic needs of most people – such as security and wellbeing – aren’t satisfied. Furthermore, many people are isolated from their loved ones and their colleagues, so even that part of the pyramid is not doing well. Although we can say that work can be a distractor in many difficult situations when we’re flooded with emotions caused by all these unsatisfied needs, they can become the focus of our thoughts and everything else we do becomes superficial and nowhere near in line with our abilities.

Feelings of fear, panic, loneliness, and powerlessness can occur, and the lack of control and uncertainty about the end of this period only highlights these emotions. These are some of the basic differences between the ‘regular’ and this ‘special’ home office. With all that said, it’s important to seek support and advice on how to deal with difficult situations in order to be in line with our needs at least up until some point.

Providing psychological support and enhancing team cohesion

HR professionals can play a big role in situations like these. Our department, as stated before, has divided our workload into two points: maintaining everything we have done so far and creating new appropriate content. For the latter, we’ve decided to focus on creating a variety of content that will give our employees advice on how to handle isolation and stress, on relaxation methods, communicating with children about everything that's happening, concentration, etc.

We've learned that there are two big areas where employees and leaders need help. The first one is dealing with unpleasant emotions and personal distress caused by the current crisis. The second one is maintaining team cohesion that might be at risk because of the required social distancing. Therefore, our materials will basically include advice in these areas. This content can be useful both in this specific period and after it.

We plan to provide our colleagues with in-house training sessions through video conferences and we already provide online counseling and support to anyone who needs it. We’ve created a pool of ideas and we’re trying to come up with new proposals every day while working on the ones already approved. Our goal is to make this period easier for everyone and we hope our materials will be helpful.

Understanding the importance of mental health at work

Preserved mental health equals productivity at work. Why is that? Insomnia (from the example I mentioned earlier) can greatly affect our daily work and activities. By following expert advice, we can reduce negative emotions and ease our sleep. According to Maslow, only when we are well-rested and our basic need for sleep is satisfied can we continue to function in other areas. We could try and work after not sleeping for days, but it would be very unproductive.

So, what can you do?

First of all, we can be honest with ourselves and allow ourselves to feel the way we feel. It is okay to feel anxious, sad, scared or even to feel nothing. Emotions are only temporary, and they constantly come and go. It is important to seek support in your environment and to share our emotions, concerns, and fears with our friends and family. It's natural if these unpleasant emotions come to us in waves. There are numerous relaxation and stress management methods. For example, you can take deep breaths and focus your attention on something you see or hear around you: smells and food flavors, the temperature in your room or shapes and colors of some object near you. This helps us bring our focus back to ‘now and here’ if we’re constantly thinking about the past or the future.

If we can, we can exercise – physical activity can help reduce anxiety. We can seek help from experts (phone numbers are provided in one of our HR emails and are posted on social networks) and we can contact the experts at our companies – whatever we prefer.

It’s important to continue with our daily routines. Only after calming down can we devote ourselves to other tasks with our full capacity. For more tips on preserving your mental health, check out our weekly articles.

During this time, our HR team will be publishing articles and brochures about home office and mental health, internally but (some of them) also via LinkedIn. We invite everyone to check them out and contact us if you need our help.

In the end, to all isolated citizens, to all those who left and lost their homes, all those terrified, lost and alone, to all doctors, medical staff and volunteers in hospitals in Croatia and around the world, to all my fellow psychologists, teachers, police, military, firefighters, workers, and volunteers – we’re sending lots of support, compassion, and admiration from Serengeti.

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