HR During Challenging Times


By: Erez Harel, CHRP

In almost any industry today in Canada it seems that companies are facing significant headwinds:

While troughs such as these are cyclical and one can expect an eventual bounce-back in many industries, others may never return to their original form from their heyday even just a few years ago.

HR professionals in these and other industries have a unique opportunity to help their businesses meet and even anticipate people impacts during these difficult times. It’s not a stretch to think that anyone who can help management keep employees engaged during these challenging times will have the full attention of the most senior leaders in their organization.

While restructuring and termination does take place during challenging times, those details are for another article. The following are some examples of these engagement strategies that are relatively simple to implement but can be far-reaching in their effect.

1. Leverage EAP
EAP, also known as Employee Assistance Programs, are work-based intervention programs designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal difficulties. Most times these programs are outsourced for confidentiality purposes and are an excellent resource for employees particularly during periods of uncertainty and stress.

Get to know what options your EAP service is offering or, if you don’t have one, look to see if one makes sense for your organization. Ensure your managers are aware of the program and talking to your employees about it. Finally, some EAP programs provide resiliency seminars to their clients as part of their contract, check to see if such an offer exists with your EAP partner.  

2. Establish a Quiet Room
While space is always at a premium (maybe less so in certain office environments hit by layoffs) a quiet room can fulfill a number of important areas including space for religious observance or a place to de-stress. With some basic set up and maintenance, a quiet room can soon become an important resource for employees to work through some of the challenges they face during the day while staying engaged in their work. .

Where possible, work with your real estate partners to set up a meaningful and inviting environment to maximize use. Ensure that guidelines are clearly posted to ensure fair and consistent access to those who need it.

3. Reinvigorate your Recognition Program
A good recognition program rewards both the what and how of great employee performance in a timely and meaningful way. These programs can range from expensive third party-maintained programs to less formal cheap and cheerful in-house programs. Each type comes with their own benefits and opportunities.

Difficult times can lead to more self-serving and survivor-based behaviours. For example, your sales department may be trying creative ways to move products out the door but are they adhering to your code of conduct or other policies? During challenging times especially, check to make sure that your recognition program reinforces performance excellence balanced with ethical and good business practice such as compliance, collaboration, partnership, and leadership. Finally, make sure that you socialize the benefits of the program so that managers are using it consistently and be open to feedback from both managers and employees if tweaks to the program are needed.

4. Ensure Managers are Having Regular Check-ins with their Employees
More and more companies are steering away from formal performance ratings and related meetings to more regular constructive conversations. While your company may not be ready for such a dramatic change, the main idea is that as the nature of manager and employee meetings slowly shift, the conversation can go to previously unexplored areas.

When meeting with their employees, managers should reserve time to talk about things that matter to the employee like: how they like to be recognized, projects of interest, or executives they would like to meet. Even a few minutes spent on developments in the employee’s life can go a long way to build trust and engagement. Finally, assuming managers have the flexibility to tweak employee goals during the year, it’s important to remind managers of the value of focusing part of the discussion on long term goals and career development as part of their regular discussions.

5. Ensure Senior Leaders are Providing Clear, Regular, and Honest Updates on the Issues and Plans to Improve the Situation

When there is a lack of information from leadership particularly during challenging times it’s natural for some employees to be distracted by rumours and gossip which can affect overall morale.

Where possible, work with your communication team and business partners to build out a timely and robust communication strategy. Also, know which stakeholders in your organization will support these messages and who may act to resist or even undermine the message and what will be done to mitigate that.

Work with leaders on communicating the message in a meaningful way so that employees will not only understand the message but act in a way that can help move the company forward in a positive manner. Don’t forget that leaders also need time to absorb and reflect on these messages so they can successfully lead their team through this change, which means your availability to answer their questions or act as a confidant is important.

6. Conduct exit interviews
Hearing the thoughts and recommendations of departing employees is an excellent way for organizations to learn about areas that require more attention. As these folks enter other organizations or move on to other areas in their life, many will remember that their company took the time to learn from their experiences and show appreciation for their work.

Use standardized questions and employ a disciplined approach so that every employee who voluntarily resigns has an interview before leaving. Assuming you have their ok, share these details with their manager with the aim of making positive changes in the workplace.

While exit interviews are good, stay interviews are even better. Managers should be talking with and learning from their employees while they are still working for your company as opposed to when they have submitted their resignation and are almost out the door.

7. Audit Your Policies on Respect in the Workplace, Leave Policies and others
As mentioned, times of financial and organizational crisis can lead to upticks of inappropriate behaviours in the workplace and/or increased casual absenteeism.

Assemble a group of business leads and representatives from legal, benefits, and others to review these policies and make changes as necessary. If your company has a global footprint, involve regional stakeholders where possible. Look at ways of reminding your managers and employees of these policies through lunch and learns, email reminders, or requesting leaders spend five to 10 minutes discussing policies with their team prior to business updates.

8. Anticipate The Business Pain Points Before Things Become a Crisis
It’s possible that one, two or all of the above points may be relevant to your business going through a challenging time.

There are so many initiatives that HR professionals can focus on. Pick one or two at a time and avoid the temptation of taking on too many which can result in incomplete projects and disappointment. One key way of successfully anticipating your company’s pain points is to know the business you are supporting. Now is a great time to re-engage with your business to understand where it’s going, what it’s doing to address these unique challenges, and how you can insert yourself and possibly your team in the most meaningful and effective way to help get them through.

Erez Harel, CHRP is a senior HR business partner with CHC Helicopter, a BC-based company with a talented and passionate global team providing offshore transportation to the oil-and-gas industry, flying search-and-rescue and emergency medical missions, and delivering maintenance/repair/overhaul and support services. He can be reached via LinkedIn.

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