Effective communication with employees during the COVID-19 pandemic can have an impact on how a company is perceived by future workers and even the public, according to Randstad, a recruitment and HR solutions firm. An employer's brand strategy must include transparency, reskilling initiatives and a focus on diversity and inclusion, among other factors, Randstad leaders said during a webinar April 23.
It's essential for HR leaders and professionals to be "totally consistent with the truth" about a company's situation amid times of financial impact, Francesca Campalani, Randstad Enterprise Group vice president of global talent marketing, said. "That transparency for building trust is so important right now," Jeanne Schad, talent solutions and strategy practice leader at Randstad RiseSmart, added; "Trust is how we're going to get work done quickly. When we need people to be productive right now, it's so important to build their trust."
Transparency must include empathy
Trust comes when employers show compassion or empathy, Campalani said. She described her experience while working at Goldman Sachs in 2008 during the Great Recession, and seeing "lines of people leaving the office with boxes of belongings." In contrast, many of today's leaders are taking pay cuts and making sacrifices to spare employees hardship, she said.
"I genuinely think we all learned from that period," Campalani said. "It's something that fills me with hope." She continued, "This is the moment leaders have to walk the talk. People who are in HR in an engaging role with staff colleagues shouldn't be left alone. Leaders should be the face and voice of the company at this moment." A LinkedIn report published April 21 found that employer brand messaging in posts began to change to themes of community, support and care in mid-March. "In short, it looks like messages that put people first perform best," the report said.
Highlighting company values remains important during times of financial hardship, Schad said. "Certainly those who are able to stay true to their values can stay connected to their employees, even if those employees are forced to exit the organization." With the right support, there can be some positive outcomes for people who are laid off, Schad said. For example, a small group of chief human resource officers at Accenture, Lincoln Financial Group, ServiceNow and Verizon created People + Work Connect, a free platform connecting employers laying off or furloughing employees with those in urgent need of workers.
But employees who remain at companies after downsizing "are going to feel a tremendous amount of emotion," so it's important to support them, Schad said, which will allow them to move to the stage of re-engagement.
'If you really care about diversity and inclusion, this is your time to shine'
During times of crisis and restructuring, there's an opportunity to evaluate company standards and processes, Campalani and Schad explained. A focus on diversity and inclusion is essential to retaining diverse talent and their trust, Campalani said.
"Companies work hard to demonstrate that they care about having diversity of human beings, personalities, backgrounds, ethnicity and gender," she said. "They really want that richness, and they don't want to be represented just by one dominant group. If you really care about diversity and inclusion, this is your time to shine." The way employees and candidates are treated today, amid the crisis, is a company's diversity and inclusion message for tomorrow, Campalani said. "At the end of the day, diversity and inclusion means you care about people," she added.
Resilience involves reskilling, self care
Resilience and problem solving are fundamental when dealing with the financial impact of a crisis, Schad said. "Resilience is one of the most important skills for us to be thinking about right now because it goes so far in helping us to future-proof ourselves," she said. "Along these lines, this is an opportunity for HR leaders to reskill yourself, to encourage those on your team to reskill and for the organization to encourage reskilling programs."
And opportunities exist for employees to receive less formal reskilling. "We're seeing this in the COVID-19 crisis happening at a very rapid pace," Schad said. Many companies are encouraging an entrepreneurial type of learning where employees can contribute in areas that interest them, and they are setting up systems for this practice, she said. This is a way to tap into skills workers have not shown before, and "where ideas can emerge," Schad said. It also keeps employees engaged, she added. Learning different skill sets can prepare workers for hybrid jobs — emerging jobs that require a blend of technical and soft skills, according to research. And, hybrid jobs are evolving into "super jobs" that require skill sets that cross multiple domains.
Resilience also requires HR professionals to practice self care, Schad and Campalani said. "Many times the HR people at organizations are the support network." Schad said. "So they're in need of support themselves and excellent self care right now to be there for their employees." Campalani recommended joining HR professional networks on social platforms such as WhatsApp or Facebook for peer support. "It's not easy," she said; "you've got a big weight on your shoulders."