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Managing your workforce in a crisis

March 25, 2020
By Brian Kreissl

This week, I was going to continue with the theme of employer branding and the employment value proposition. This post was going to focus on the issue of negative employer branding and situations where bad things happen to good companies.

While these are important concerns, the more immediate concern is the global COVID-19 pandemic. Much has been written about this crisis over the past few weeks, and governments, lawyers, consultants and other experts have done a great job covering many of the legislative programs and supports offered to employers as well as the legal and regulatory impact of the crisis.

I recommend signing up for some of the webinars offered by law firms and accessing fact sheets, white papers and other content covering some of the legal implications and best practices. Many publications have also produced excellent articles and other resources on the pandemic.

Rather than dealing with those types of issues, I wanted to focus more on the realities of managing an organization’s talent in this time of crisis.


While we should be empathetic and supportive and avoid making an opportunity out of a crisis, employers have an opportunity to really shine by providing safety, reassurance and support to their employees.

Current, future and prospective employees, customers and the general public will remember those companies that treated their employees well during this crisis. Nevertheless, employers should behave in an ethical manner because it is simply the right thing to do and not just because it will have a positive impact on the organization’s employer brand.

Talent acquisition concerns

Recruitment in many industries and organizations has ground to a standstill. By now, it is clear the COVID-19 pandemic will have a major impact on the global economy, and some businesses have shut down entirely due to government orders or dramatically reduced their volume of business. As a result, many vacancies will be on hold for the time being or be cancelled entirely.

Nevertheless, it is business as usual in essential industries such as healthcare, food production, grocery retail and pharmacies. Because of this, talent acquisition continues in such industries and may continue even in non-essential industries with respect to critical vacancies.

Recruitment processes may need to be adjusted to take the realities of the current situation into consideration.

In-person interviews will likely need to be replaced with telephone or video interviews. Recruiters and hiring managers will likely be working from home, so they may need to be trained on the use of this software and appropriate techniques for interviewing remotely and online.

Where job requisitions have been put on hold or are cancelled outright, it is important to keep candidates in the loop. Most people should be pretty understanding of the current situation and will be aware of the economic and logistical pressures being put on most businesses, but they still need to know how things are going with the recruitment process. In some cases, it may be best to cancel job requisitions outright and resume the process again once things return to normal.

Learning and development concerns

With businesses being in survival mode and so many employees panicking over the global pandemic, learning and development are likely going to be put on the back burner for the time being. This should also be explained to employees in an authentic and transparent manner.

However, certain issues such as infection control, staying safe, mental health in the workplace and maintaining a respectful workplace will become particularly important, and learning and development practitioners will likely shift their focus to those types of programs. It will also be important to focus on e-learning, webinars and online delivery of classroom training sessions rather than traditional in-class sessions.

Job security and safety concerns

Workers are justifiably concerned about job security and the financial impact of the crisis on their families. Governments have offered some limited relief in the form of support to businesses, and new legislated leaves are being added in many jurisdictions.

Some lawyers also believe that the current circumstances will reduce the likelihood of constructive dismissal litigation.

While these supports will give employers tools to help manage the downturn, employers can help their employees by allowing flexible work arrangements, offering a menu of options when time off is required, taking safety and job security concerns seriously, being honest and transparent and offering supports that go beyond the legislated minimums where they have the resources to do so.

Brian Kreissl is a product development manager with Thomson Reuters in Toronto. He looks after HR, payroll, OH&S, records retention and Triform. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com or (416) 609-5886. For more information, visit https://store.thomsonreuters.ca/en-ca/home.

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