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In This Episode

  • Why focusing on your employee experience during an uncertain time is more critical than ever.
  • The simple mindset shift to instantly improve your employee crisis communications.
  • How we can easily add in more positive touchpoints for our employees.
  • How HR can keep their sanity in an uncertain time, while remaining effective and a personal life!

The work we do in HR matters. It matters a lot and how we do it, how we connect with our employees. It matters.

This is a special first episode of the Rethink HR podcast because where we are right now, is uncertain. And the work that HR is being asked to do, has dramatically changed overnight. After chatting with so many of my friends in HR and my community, this episode is all about instantly actionable things HR can do to help calm panic, refocus efforts, ensure that the focus remains on the right things, and we keep our sanity!


What we do in HR matters. It matters a lot and how we do it, how we connect with our employees. It matters. Hi, welcome to the rethink HR podcast. I'm Melissa Anzman, your host. So we've had this podcast in the works for some time now to really help talk through how we're going to rethink HR as we move forward and work starting not with our first plan episode, but we're doing a special series right now for things that my HR community asks for and really talking about why HR matters so much, how we can deliver really important employee experiences right now and how that's going to really impact the long run. Also, we want you in HR to keep your sanity, so we're going to walk through how to do that. In today's episode. Over the past week or so, I've seen so many cries for help from my HR community.

The thing that sticks out most to me as I was scrolling through Instagram and something literally stopped my scroll and it was an image that said, check on your HR friends. They are not okay right now. And that absolutely broke my heart. As HR professionals, we are often at the front lines. When something like this happens, we're expected to step up to the plate, deliver tough news over and over again. While at the same time we're worried about our own careers, our families, our kids, our spouses are all of those things and our own health. And for me to having a plan, understanding the different tactics that are working right now and how to implement them always helps me get out of that worry stage and into action and also help me deal with what's going on. So with that in mind, we are going to walk through what's working now and how you can better set yourself up for success through this crisis.

So before we start, I need you to know that what we do in HR matters. It matters a lot and how we do it, how we connect with our employees. It matters how we show up every day, how we carry ourselves, how we do our job, our commitment to what we're doing and our employees. It matters. And with so much pressure and responsibility on us, it's so easy for us to crack and want out or not stay the course or fall into the panic. And we can't do that because we're so important for our companies and our employees. What we do now, particularly in a time of, is going to have a bigger and broader impact than even how we do our HR lives on a daily basis. So the first thing we have to do is pause. I know it's super hard to do and I know it's sort of that advice that you get that you're like, eh, I get it.

I know I'm supposed to, but who has time in my day? But when we pause, what we're going to do is we're going to shift our first thought from our panic and what we have to do and been tasked to do, and think about how our employees are experiencing this situation and how we can help. So for some of us, this feels more like a medical crisis. Maybe it's an economical crisis. Perhaps it's a combination of both, which it is for many of us. But regardless of where that is in your role as an employee, as a leader or as the company person in charge of managing this, it is really critical that we step up help and serve better and to keep our sanity throughout this process. So the first thing we are going to do after recognizing our employees perspective is to clearly define what we can and can't change.

I learned pretty early in my career an interesting term that's called gravity issues. At first. The term really freaked me out. I'm not going to lie. It was all about, you know, you can't do that because it's gravity issue. Don't worry about it. It just like gravity. You can't change it. So don't worry about it. And the thing is is it's upsetting in some ways, but also very true. So the situation in the world is not something that we can change. We can absolutely help support positive change by following established guidelines like physical, social distancing, not hoarding supplies, supporting local and online businesses when possible. All of those things we can help, but we can't change the pandemic or the falling stock market or any of those other things that are at you. Maybe it's having your kids at home that it's distracting you from work or maybe it's the fact that you are working from home or you're an extrovert and are missing out on your fellow colleagues.

Those are things we can't define. I'm sorry. Those are things we can't change and therefore it's a gravity issue. So I want you to take stock right now after this podcast and write down all of those things and worries that are bothering you and name them as gravity issues if they are, because we can't change gravity issues, we don't have the bandwidth, the time, the energy or the sanity to actually focus on those things. Right now we are only going to commit our energy to things that we can influence and those aren't gravity issues. So that's your first action item. What is that list? Define it as a gravity issue and if it's a gravity issue, we are going to let it fall off of our worry plate for now. So how do we do this? How do we actually move into action? We're going to talk through how to do that for our employees and then I'm going to talk about how to do that as HR professionals.

There's going to be some overlap. You are an employee to, let me remind you, but in addition, there are things that we can do for our employees that will help the panic subside a little bit and it will help you keep your sanity on the other side and vice versa. So the first thing under that is we are going to talk to our employees about what total rewards we have and our resources available to them. So if you have an employee assistance program and EAP, you have wellness opportunities available or programs you have financial planning available, whatever your total rewards package looks like and now is the time that you need to be talking to your employees about it and reminding them that it's available. We invest a ton of money into these resources, into these benefits and a lot of us are underutilizing them now as it is now.

As a time to remind them of that now because there is so much change going on right now. Things like your EAP may be a little bit overwhelmed and so the service may be different, et cetera, but I still want you to talk about the things that are applicable. A lot of EAP programs have a financial plan and component to it, which I'm sure not enough people are taking advantage of. Now is the time that we open up our resources and we remind our employees that they are there to help and if you feel like you don't have the resources, maybe you don't have a robust financial planning situation opportunity, not a problem. Get an expert in to do a webinar and post it on your employee portal so that your employees can go and understand. Even if it's a let's calm down, let's explain the market, whatever that is, you can create it now if you don't have it and then we are going to remind our employees about those resources, scholarship programs.

All of those things are super helpful right now and under the wellness category. This is not just physical wellness but wellness overall, so think of it more broad as wellbeing and include fun things like maybe it's a step challenge that you have across your company or a specific department, encouraging your employees to take advantage of your tr resources, but in addition, helping them be more well rounded from a wellbeing perspective. Super important to do. The next thing is how we are going to communicate with our employees. I alluded that to this before about having them be sort of our frame of reference, but when we communicate to our employees going forward, particularly right now, we are always going to start with an employee first perspective and we're going to use the storytelling for HR perspective and what that really is is a fancy way of saying that your communications are not going to be about you or the company going forward.

We are not going to talk about from the perspective of what HR or the company needs your employees to know, but we are shifting that and making your communications to really be about what your employees need. It's about them. So when we communicate we're going to already be more effective. We're going to build the relationship rapport and trust because we are talking about things in a way that actually matters and resonate with our employees. So this is the hero guide and villain framework. And you could read more about that in my book if you'd like. But the premise of it is in HR we want to be the guide. We want to flow our employees to the right information, details, and resources. And we want our employees to be the hero at the center of the story. So when they read your message, they know it's for them.

They know exactly what they need to know, what they need to do, where they need to go and how to take action. So it's not about company telling, it's about company helping the employees learn. So it's a show and tell difference in perspective. If we communicate in this way, instantly we are going to be able to communicate properly. Um, our employees down, be transparent and clear as well as removing all of the fluff. We don't want to create any type of unuseful communication. And even down to the sentence and word perspective. I know it sounds small, but if we don't, if we're not clear, if we don't pair down the way that we're communicating right now, our employees are going to fill in the blanks and that means they're going to create their own stories, create their own panic and really takes a bad situation and make it worse.

So we're going to have them be the center of our communications. We are going to guide them through, but we're going to do it in a way that resonates with them and always being transparent and clear. The next thing we have to look at in HR is our policies. Now, I used to run a policy department for a really large company, so policies are super important to me and I am a rule follower on top of it. So if you are like me and you're saying these are our policies, bottom line, follow them. I hear you and I feel you. You are not alone. However, right now we have to have a little bit of flexibility in some of our policies, but it's really important that we do not decrease the quality of work and our expectations around work. I am going to say that again because this is where so many companies are dropping the ball right now.

We can be flexible in some of our policies in the way we work, in our expectations around it, but we should not be lowering our expectations around the quality of work for our employees. People need some sort of consistency, some sort of routine to help them get through right now and we as a company need our employees to get to work. The only way to help decrease the impact of the recession and what's going on economically is to continue to work and deliver. Now I understand there are extenuating circumstances. There are layoffs going on. Work is not going to continue as usual. I get that and that's okay, but what's not okay is where accepting lower quality of work, we're accepting people totally not working or doing their job totally not following our performance expectations. So be flexible where you can, things like obviously all work from home policies or um, maybe there are specific deadlines you can push off until later, et cetera.

But you're not going to let employees do bad work. We are still going to move forward with things like performance management situations if we need to, but we're going to do it a little differently. And here's what I mean by that. We are going to add more empathy into our interactions and our perspectives. Things are not very defined or as you would sort of say, black and white right now, particularly in the world of work, not only are a lot of us working at home for the first time for your employees, but they're also trying to do that with their kids around. And maybe it's their spouses there, an extended family, or maybe they're just so worried or not feeling well or don't have what they think they need grocery wise. All of those things are going to impact the way your employee shows up at work.

So we're going to have empathy with that. We're going to acknowledge that these are tough times and we're going to give them a little bit of leeway, which means we're not looking at if they're on Skype right now and how long they've been there and if they're working their typical hours or maybe they're working, you know they go offline for a half hour. We're not worried about those things. Stop worrying about that. The butts in seats philosophy never worked. It's especially not going to work right now, but we are going to be worried about miss deadlines without pre communication. We're gonna worry about employees who are just not responding and we're not going to be harsh about it. What we're going to reach out and say, what's going on? How can we support you better? How can we get you in the groove? What roadblocks are there?

How can we help you overcome them? How can we partner you up with the right resources? How can we maybe have you and someone else split this project so that we can sort of work in smaller time chunks, whatever that is. We have to come to the table with those options and opportunities in order to help. We still need the high quality of work, so that's going to continue to be really important, but we're going to come at it with empathy. The next thing we're going to do for our employees is to over-communicate with transparency. It is now the time to think. You are being relentless communicators and I know that's so annoying to you and I know you're going to fight me on this a little bit, but I promise you it's what's working right now. My clients right now that are getting the most success from an employee perspective have ongoing communications with their employees.

They're doing less formal communications. They're simple, they're transparent, they're truthful, and they also are frequent. So what you're going to do, emails are fine. They're not the best and they're not horrible, but we're want to drag in and pull in and borrow from different resources and communication methods in order to over-communicate. So we're gonna do virtual coolers. We're gonna all hop on a video call together. Maybe you want to record an audio message for a team member or a quick video that you can send, or perhaps it's a meme that you want to send out to your whole team as a funny or a joke, whatever it is for you. I want you to overcommunicate with transparency. There was a really great example a few days ago in the news where the Marriott international CEO did a video and they posted it on Twitter after it went out to all their employees.

And it was probably one of the most vulnerable videos of transparency that I have seen to date, um, from a senior leader to their associates in a really hard time. Now, of course, I could pick that apart and tell you some of the things I would have liked to have seen in addition to what was there. But truthfully, what they did, what was there was almost perfect. And the reason it was because it was vulnerable and it was transparent and it wasn't over-communication. So you want you to think about ways that you can do that for your employees from here and going forward. So that's how we're going to serve our employees better. That's how we're going to help them stay on track. That's how we're going to manage them. That's how we're going to make our HR lives easier for them. Now, how do we make our own HR lives easier for us?

So the first is super important and I really want you to hear me say this and that is do not become the scapegoat. Now HR has a reputation of becoming the scapegoat, whether on purpose or by accident, particularly in times of uncertainty and in particularly in times of a downturn like we are in right now, it's easy for us to do that because we are the HR department, right? We have that reputation perhaps of not being as strategic or as dealing with the people. I used all co air quotes for that in case he didn't see me. But the point of the matter is HR is easy to blame when we have to lay off people. I don't want you to become the scapegoat and this is going to take active work and this is also something you can approach from two perspectives. The first is you actively be, don't become the scapegoat and you talk about it and you push back and you're more direct about it, which is my preferred approach.

But if you're not as blunt and straightforward as I am, you may take the second approach, which is making sure in your mind, you know, for certain you are not the scapegoat what everyone else thinks doesn't matter, but you are going to make sure your mindset stays that way because we are the ones typically delivering bad news. We are blamed as the messengers. And so what I'd like you to do to help not become the person blamed or the scapegoat is making sure that it's very clear that these decisions are business decisions, that you were not the only decision maker in the process. Um, and you want us phrase this really carefully. I totally understand that. I can't go through all the ways in a podcast of how to do that. But you really want to make sure that you outline this is a direct impact to what's going on in the world right now.

It is not personal, it is not an HR decision. You are not doing this to them and we are not the ones to blame. And like when you talk to your leaders, this is very important as well. This is where we have to ask and partner with our leaders to take ownership of the situation as well. When I work in HR closely as a business partner, my leaders are the ones who communicate the layoffs or firing messages. I'm there to support them. I'm there to help them with the script, but it's really a leadership decision. And so that's how I put some space in normal times around scapegoating in these abnormal times. I want your script to be tight and I want your sup you to have the support of your senior leaders to really help you and help your public face of HR to the company.

Understand this is not a quote HR thing. And to do that you also have to have some boundaries, which is our next thing. If you're working from home for the first time or maybe now it just seems like everyone else is working from home. So it just feels different. You really need to get your boundaries set, your own working hours, your own, um, social media restrictions yourself own when you're going to receive answer or respond to different work-related things or text or et cetera. You need to set some boundaries like you have in a normal office environment. I don't want you to be working all hours of the night. I know that there are some times we're going to have to break that rule, particularly when things are moving fast and we have a layoff coming and lists and off list and all that stuff happens. But in general, I want you to set a routine and create some boundaries.

And this also helps with the scapegoating because you are telling people, this is when I'm available, this is when I'm not available. And you're being super helpful and responsive during those times and you're also letting others step in, step up to the plate in those times you're not available. So set some boundaries. The worst thing you can do right now is get burned out yourself. And I know like you have the fear in the back of your mind of if we're doing all these layoffs, I'm next. I have to keep working, I have to show my value. So on and so forth. Been there, done that. The fact of the matter is depending on how, where your company is, what you do, as long as you're doing your best job isn't going to matter that much. So protect yourself in a boundary and not saying do a bad job.

I will never say that. What I am saying, do the best job you can while keeping your sanity. The next thing we're going to do is we're going to put processes in place. We are not making decisions like we are in a continuous fire sale. Stop that nonsense right now. I don't care if your CEO is telling you that you need to fire sale things right this minute, stop it. So we need to create a process. We need to have consistency, we need to follow legal guidelines and we need to make sure that what we do is fair, equitable, repeatable, honest and consistent. So we are creating processes and this means when we are told we need to lay off however many people in a riff, we have a process for it and we hold to that process. We do not just say this entire department is gone and that's it.

We're going to have a process to ensure we're making the right decision that the people that are, uh, impacted, have come to that list appropriately. And our notification process is the same and fair and transparent. Our scripts are in place. Our after action is in place. Our benefits in what we're providing our employees is standard. We have a process. Now, this just isn't for riffs. This is for everything. I talked earlier about having some empathy with schedule in particular and working hours and maybe you know, deadlines or things like that. I want you to have a process in place for that as well. So if you have a change in policy, if you have an exception request, I want you to map out what those exceptions are and I want you to follow them. I want you to map out what your working hours and expectations are.

And I want them to be followed and upheld. And this is not so we can add even more things for us to do. This is so you can do the right things and focus on those things consistently going forward. So stop trying to put out fires, create a process and then tackle the process. Do it quickly. That's the fire urgency is we need to get it done right now. We don't have time to spare, but we are not order takers and we are not putting out a fire. We still have to be our true H ourselves. We still have to do the best job we can. And that means we're doing consistent, fair and equitable work. And finally, I want you to take a deep freakin breath. Take a deep breath. It is so chaotic. We are spinning and things are getting thrown at us all the time.

And on top of that, we have to do the hard work. We have to hear a lot of other people's emotions and impacts and think that through an all the messy things. So take a deep breath, taking a breath to pause and reconnect and refocus is going to help. It sounds super lame, I hear you. But what it will do is bring you back to the present and also give yourself a little tiny break to understand what really needs to happen and how to prioritize. So we have to take that moment to refocus and then we can get back to work. And if you're a long, if your breath is a, you know, I'm ending work today at 5:00 PM and I am not going to do anything of any type of value until tomorrow morning at nine do it. But take a breath, pause and reevaluate.

And I want you to do this at least every hour, once an hour. Set your phone if you need to to Dean and give yourself a deep breath break. If you only take one deep breath, I'm good with it. If you take more than that, you're winning extra points. I want you to take a pause every hour. These are not normal times. This is not the, you know, I know we can't get up and take a 20 minute walk like we're supposed to every so often. But you can take a pause. You can take a minute or two off to take a breath. So we know how we're going to support our employees, we know how we're going to support ourselves and it's a really important reminder that our employees need us. Now more than ever, you know that you feel that you understand that and how we craft their experiences right now during this time is going to greatly impact the future of our businesses and our future talent.

I know that's not something that we can actively consider right now, but our businesses will need key talent going forward. And our current experiences as we lead people through this difficult time is going to greatly impact our future key talent opportunities. So I'd like you to use these tips, incorporate them into your daily work and I want us to shift together from our current reactive state, still doing the work that we need to do, but do it in a way that preserves our future and sets us up for success as we move forward. We are the leaders of the company. We are the people that our senior leaders and our employees rely on and the work that we do matters. It matters now more than it ever has before and I want you to be sure you protect your own work and you protect your own sanity through this time.

This podcast is brought to you by the employee experience solution book. Today's HR leaders and innovative workplaces can't waste time on focusing on employee engagement. We know that in our current uncertain times, traditional employee engagement tactics are becoming less effective and even more expensive, and we do not have the time or money for that. They also know you can't enforce engagement no matter how much you do. After all, employee engagement isn't a solution. It's an outcome. That's why my new book, the employee experience solution, is designed to help you rethink your approach to employee engagement by focusing on the employee experience. Starting right now, pick up your copy of the employee experience solution on Amazon or at better.com/book that's B E T T H r.com/book thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of the rethink HR podcast. For more information, including the show notes and resources mentioned, please go to rethink HR podcast.com/one.

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