Due to recent events, we’ve witnessed with disbelief an unprecedented increase in unemployment that happened literally overnight. Think about it – for the first few months of the year, HR departments around the country were still trying to figure out how to find, attract, and retain key talent in what appeared to be a zero-talent-pool job market in many industries. Then, over just a few weeks, unemployment numbers skyrocketed and are currently hovering somewhere between 10% and 15%. It all happened so fast that labor experts are still trying to determine the exact number of impacted individuals.

Early guesses estimate that 10 to 20 million individuals have been displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic-driven shutdown of the U.S. economy. As HR practitioners, what do we do now?  What do we need to focus on now that our strategic priorities have shifted?

Here are some quick ideas to start you thinking about how HR can adapt to this new situation. We’ll dig into these more deeply in some additional articles, but we hope these initial insights will help you begin educating and preparing your organization to both mitigate negative impacts from the drastic change in the employment environment now and come out of the current crisis well-prepared to ramp back up later.


Managing through uncertainty COVID-19 banner

Reskilling and upskilling employees

Prior to the pandemic, reskilling and upskilling were trends that were on the rise in training and development circles. These things will become increasingly important as we move forward into the new post-crisis world of work. Reskilling and upskilling can help identify business and employee needs, provide a strategic advantage for your organization through boosting your flexibility, and improve the employee experience by exposing your teams to diverse roles and tasks.

Here are a few questions to spark your imagination around putting a plan in place for this area:

  • What skills or tasks overlap or would be applicable in multiple positions across your organization?
  • How would you allocate employee hours for different roles and manage your schedule if you decide to have people flex across several areas?
  • What kinds of training and development opportunities would you need to put in place to reskill or upskill employees?
  • How would you recognize employees who excel in a more flexible role and who move easily between different areas? How would you reflect that in succession plans?

Nurturing your number one asset: Your employees

Your employees are your greatest and most expensive asset. It’s important to recognize their needs have shifted during this crisis. Things like ensuring mental health, maintaining productivity, reducing burnout, and being able to quickly notice when an employee is experiencing difficulties that impact their work have all come to the forefront thanks to the heightened stress levels everyone is experiencing.

With employees facing more of these kinds of obstacles, you need to be able to answer some tough questions from an HR perspective to retain people in key roles and continue improving your organization’s employee experience:

  • Are we providing enough employee assistance, either through our own programs or by referring to other public/third-party options?
  • Can we quickly and accurately track and predict if certain employees are likely to be experiencing fatigue or burnout using our people data?
  • Do we have clear lines of communication around work standards for our various onsite and remote environments, and can managers clearly articulate those to employees?
  • Have we made our employees feel secure by training them in proper safety and crisis management best practices to reduce their anxiety?
  • Is there enough flexibility built into our policies to allow employees the mental health breaks, time to care for children and family members, and work hours they need?

Recruiting in a saturated market

Despite the newly created record-size talent pool, most companies have limited appetite to hire at the moment, but it’s something to proactively plan for. Hiring budget freezes and other recruiting limitations might not change at a moment’s notice, but once companies can see the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, they will adjust their business outlook and a fierce competition for talent will resume. As HR pros, we should do our best right now to look around the corner and assess how our recruiting needs have changed so when the war for talent picks up again we’re ahead of the game.

To do this, start thinking about the ways these times of uncertainty have reframed your organization’s thinking about recruitment (and don’t forget about the reskilling and upskilling we talked about earlier in this equation):

  • How has the way we define hourly and salaried employee responsibilities and what we need for those roles changed?
  • Are there some non-traditional skills or mindsets from other professions or specialties that we haven’t looked at before?
  • When considering candidates for certain roles, are there people who could cross over and be successful even if the candidate hasn’t been in that type of position before?
  • What operational gaps are left open due to our crisis management and business continuity measures? In what order of priority do we need to fill those?

Conclusion: There are ways we can all keep moving forward

Companies that are taking the right steps now will have the advantage of emerging from the coronavirus crisis with an engaged and loyal workforce. Employee experience will play a deciding factor in how well companies will weather the storm. While employees might not be as vocal right now about all the things they desire, including flexibility, autonomy, belonging, a great manager, fair compensation, expanded benefits, and other priorities, what they’re looking for in a great place to work has not changed and will not go away.

Even though it might feel like these are non-essential tasks, don’t let the difficulties of the present reverse the progress you’ve made in creating positive employee experiences that are setting you apart from the competition. If anything, find ways to double down on and expand your efforts. Take advantage of the fact that times of restraint and limitation have shown to be a highly effective catalyst for invention and advancement. Stay tuned for more insights on these topics, and remember that we’re here for you if you need resources or help.

Get more resources

Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2020