How to manage your team during a crisis
The unprecedented conditions that businesses across the world find themselves in due to COVID-19, and the circumstances in which managers are now having to manage their teams, are causing high levels of stress and anxiety. Managers in tourism businesses as elsewhere need to keep in mind a number of guiding principles as they help their staff adjust to the new reality.
Remember some workers have never done this. Younger employees in particular may not have any memory of offices shutting down due to emergencies like hurricanes, earthquakes or terrorist attacks.
Help employees get used to working remotely. Develop work from home checklists, give advice about self-care (keep routines, take care of physical health, take breaks), have empathy for interruptions to the work routine because staff have to attend to family needs.
Make a communications plan. Agree how employees will get company updates, and how you will communicate important information. Develop a web page you can update yourself with important information in real time.
Be honest. Let employees know if there are parts of the company that will be particularly affected by the crisis. Give your team information on company outputs that will indicate how the team is performing, and which are most significant for company prospects.
Include everyone. Make sure you reach out to quieter employees, and that people feel acknowledged in business decisions even if everyone is working remotely.
Practice compassion. Be flexible, help manage your employees’ stress and anxiety. Communicate that you are there for your staff. Ask what you can do to help.
Checklist for line managers when dealing with employees on return to work
Line managers are often the first contact for employees when returning to work, and are in the best position to provide workplace support, referring to occupational health professionals where needed. The following are simple steps to identify and support those in need of help:
Make early contact with the employee in a way that is positive and caring.
Use conversation starters to establish a rapport and discuss problems (e.g. “how has life been?”, “are you OK about coming back?”, “do you feel safe coming back?”, “how can we make your job better?”, “do you know who to talk with if any problems come up?”).
Identify specific obstacles to a return to work – e.g. personal, health, workplace.
For those with existing health problems, identify specific issues and possible solutions (e.g. “do you feel up to doing your usual job with your health problem?”, “what parts of your job will you find difficult because of your health problem?”, “what can we change to overcome the difficulties?”).
Agree a return to work plan to overcome specific obstacles – who needs to do what, when?
Refer to an occupational health professional for help if obstacles are too complex.
Tool for evaluating workplace risk for returning employees
When considering which employees can safely return to the workplace following the COVID-19 lockdown, both the nature of the role, the protections available at the workplace and the underlying risk vulnerability of the employee needs to be considered. This is all the more important because tourism workplaces are often mostly public-facing. The following risk evaluation tool outlines the various dimensions of workplace risk, mapped against the overall vulnerability of the employee.
Dealing with an employee having a crisis
The stress, fear, upheaval and uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic make it a challenging time for the mental health of many around the world. For whatever reason, your employees may over the months to come go through times where they struggle to cope. As an employer, you need to offer support while being mindful of the limits of your role.
Make yourself available. Learn to recognize the warning signs that an employee is going through a difficult time, and maintain an atmosphere of compassion in the office so people are more likely to come to you.
Don’t pry. Show empathy and care but avoid asking many personal questions about the employee’s problems. Read your employee’s needs and concerns without overstepping the mark.
Listen first, suggest second. Be attentive to their concerns but don’t rush to suggest a solution – ask what both of you can do to address work performance during a difficult period. “What can we do to support you?” – the employee may have an idea for a temporary solution that is acceptable to you.
Know what you can offer. Understand what leeway you have to offer support – for instance, restrictions on long- and short-term leave, and any bureaucratic hurdles. Check what’s possible before you commit to an arrangement.
Check in regularly. Drop in by their desk or send an email occasionally to show your employee you care and to get a sense of how they are coping, encouraging them to come and see you again if they start to struggle.
Consider workload. Think about the impact that a prolonged absence may have on team members. Reward those who step in. Set deadlines to meet and discuss next steps with the employee. Always be clear about expectations.
Be transparent and consistent. Be conscious that other employees will expect similar consideration to that given to a struggling colleague. Make sure you are comfortable with policies in case you are required to apply them again.