How to Maintain Morale During a Crisis

Group os employees working remotely, maintaining morale during a crisis

The coronavirus’ impact on American businesses has been sudden and dramatic. Restaurants with full reservations just weeks ago have been ordered to close their doors. Crowded offices have turned into empty rooms. Companies that were busy hiring are now busy trying to avoid layoffs. 

With all these unexpected changes, American employees are facing many difficult issues, from loss of income to loss of a sense of security, and dealing with emotions like fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. In these challenging times, organizational leaders can play an important role in maintaining morale by providing practical solutions, timely information, and decisive leadership that give people the answers they seek and the tools they need. 

Spell out changing company policies

The virus has brought shifts and uncertainties into normal workplace rules and expectations. Employees who were formerly required to come into the office everyday are now being told to work from home. Workers who traveled often have had to cancel all their trips. Some hourly workers have seen their shifts disappear, while others have seen them increase.

When so much is in flux, organizations can provide employees with some sense of clarity and security by spelling out what the new rules and expectations are in these weeks. Changes in travel, sick leave, and work from home policies—as well as any changes in hygiene rules—should be clearly communicated to workers on a regular basis.

Set clear expectations for each employee

Whether it’s an office worker who has had to switch to working remotely or an hourly worker whose duties have shifted due to a decrease in customers, many employees have their work environments and tasks change in recent weeks. To help employees adapt to these shifts, managers can clarify for each worker what those new expectations are. For example, firmer due dates for projects may be necessary in remote working situations than in office settings where managers could check in more regularly on an employee’s progress. By making sure every employee knows what their responsibilities are, organizations can forestall unnecessary confusion and uncertainty.

Communicate regularly

Company communication in these times should be candid, consistent, timely, and audience-aware, according to TLNT. To maintain morale, it’s important to provide both frequent organization-wide updates to the workforce as a whole as well as promote direct communication between managers and reports. 

To manage fast-changing situations like those created by the coronavirus, crisis management public relations expert Beck Bamberger recommended in a recent Intoo #TalkHR webinar that organizations put out holding statements to let employees know the company is monitoring the situation and will provide frequent updates as decisions are made: “The best thing you can have then in place is for you, on a consistent basis, to say … ‘Hey, we’re monitoring the situation. We’ll have an update on X date, we’re going to be doing this. We’ll be sharing this when we have more information.’ Showcase to your employees that obviously you are aware, you’re not being silent, but you don’t have full information and so you will be seeing it and reviewing it on a consistent basis.”

For managers, Zapier’s cofounder Wade Foster recommends arranging weekly one-on-ones with direct reports. This way, managers “can help make sure to align [the employee’s] own career interests with the strategic goals of the company,” thereby boosting morale. 

Provide tools for smooth continuity of work

With many virtual tools available to support remote teams, it’s easier today than ever to equip your workforce with what they need to feel connected and to continue to perform their duties effectively. As Gallup point out, “having the materials and equipment you need to do your work right is fundamental to engagement.”

Your organization may need to invest in additional tools to help teams continue their work during these times. For example, social recruiting tools can help your organization continue its hiring cadence even while in-person efforts to find new talent have been paused. 

Trust your people

Once you’ve equipped your people with the tools they need and given them clear expectations, allow them space to do their work. After all, micromanaging people during a crisis will not improve morale. As Anita Lettink, Senior Vice President at NGA Human Resources, writes, “To me, it’s not about when and where they work or the number of hours they put in, as long as they deliver against the agreed deadlines.”

For managers concerned a remote workforce will not complete work at the same level, LaKiesha Tomlin of Thriving Ambition recommends setting up work-from-home guidelines, “such as emails must be responded to within 24 hours, use text for urgent matters, and no calls between certain hours to make sure teammates are not working around the clock.”

Have a plan for all scenarios

Much still remains uncertain about the effects of the pandemic. If a crisis management plan is not already in place, this is the time to create one—and to communicate to your workforce that your organization is prepared for potential scenarios. HR leaders will especially want to prepare by readying for long-term work from home situations, succession planning, and solidifying company policies regarding layoffs. This might include determining severance policies and packages and securing an outplacement company to provide career transition services to employees who’ll be let go. Spencer Raskoff, a co-founder of dot.LA who has had to conduct layoffs at Zillow and other companies, urges leaders  to “treat those you’re letting go as generously as your business can afford to” by offering outplacement and other help whenever possible. 


To address HR concerns around the coronavirus crisis, Intoo is holding a one-hour live panel discussion and Q&A with The Granite Group’s chief people officer Tracie Sponenberg, HR leader and #HRSocialHour Podcast host Jon Thurmond, employment attorney Kate Bischoff, and outplacement veteran Caroline Vernon. Join us on April 1 at 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET for the live chat. Reserve your seat now.

Intoo offers a top notch outplacement solution—also known as career transition services—to help organizations navigate workforce reductions while protecting brand and bottom line by helping exiting employees land new jobs faster. If you have questions about managing layoffs or workforce changes at your organization, learn from our free career transition and employer branding resources or schedule a demo to find out what Intoo’s outplacement solution can support you through times of change.


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