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What Should You Expect from HR During a Crisis?

CoAdvantage -Effective crisis management is vital to long-term business viability. Every company is eventually going to face some kind of emergency, disaster, or crisis. It could be a pandemic like COVID-19, a financial crisis, a product recall, a public relations problem, a natural disaster like a hurricane, or any one of numerous unexpected events. When the crisis strikes, the burden is on company leaders to make the right decisions to manage the situation effectively – and HR should play a key role.

Because HR is often the lever through which company leadership interacts with and directs the workforce, how well HR handles the crisis often translates directly into how well the whole organization handles it.

The pandemic itself provides a good example. HR was pivotal in managing the change to work-from-home protocols, handling workforce retention and recruitment during an extremely difficult time, and ensuring organizations complied with emerging and rapidly changing requirements and guidance for everything from public health directives to the Paycheck Protection Program.

There are other ways that HR helps during crises:

1: HR can serve as an intermediary between leadership and the workforce

HR is the division most responsible for translating executive decisions into new or modified policies. It is also responsible for sharing relevant information with employees through a variety of channels, as well as collecting high-quality data related to the workforce to share with leaders. HR thus empowers company leadership to fine-tune their decisions while focusing on employees in the direction executives need.

2: HR’s talent planning can mitigate or eliminate workforce impacts

There’s no telling what effects a crisis situation might have on the workforce. The pandemic made it extremely difficult for many companies to hold onto staff, simply because they weren’t earning enough revenue to continue paying wages. Then, as businesses have slowly gotten back to normal, the so-called Great Resignation has made it hard to keep staff due to the competitiveness of the labor market. Same problem, two very different issues, and in both cases the solution comes back to HR being creative and diligent in returning the business and its workforce back to normal operations.

3: HR can also help to prevent unhelpful kneejerk reactions

For example, in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, many businesses opted to discontinue paying employees until revenues returned to normal. But is that the right call? This is a genuinely tough situation. In some cases, that might be the right decision. In other cases, it could be a short-sighted move, particularly if made in the absence of a long-term strategy for dealing with the crisis. HR’s input in these cases can be invaluable to discerning smart responses from poor ones.

One word of warning: don’t ignore or sideline HR during the crisis.

Sometimes HR’s role in a crisis is subordinated to that of legal counsel, public relations, finance, or security personnel, depending on the nature of the emergency situation. It’s fine to ensure the most affected or most salient party takes a leading role in crisis response but remember that times of crisis make it unusually easy to run afoul of employment law and to inadvertently panic or anger workers. HR is the best resource to avoid these kinds of unforced errors during crisis management. HR may not be making the bottom-line decisions during a crisis, but HR’s voice should absolutely be part of the conversation.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about our ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.