How a global pandemic can affect your teams and what to do about it

Here are the features to look for and understand how your employees might react to this crisis, as well as some tips to help you along the way.

Work environment
Employee Experience

Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Sunday, March 15, 2020


Well that just happened….and if you’re like most companies, big and small, you are still adjusting, and trying to wrap your heads around how quickly things have changed. And while the media has done a good job underlining how this crisis has had an impact on the economy, financial markets, and company sustainability, the human factor has unfortunately gotten a lot less buzz.

So forget about the future for a second. It’s now, when things seem unstable and a bit overwhelming, that we need to look at the immediate and sudden impact this crisis is having on our employees.

Just how well are people coping? How are people feeling in these moments of crisis? What are their needs and preoccupations? What’s the best approach? And at the same time, are we inclined (or courageous enough) as leaders to self-analyze and revaluate the impact our reflexes are having on our workforce?

These are things you cannot find on social media or on the news – you need to look within your company to find these answers.

In a time where reassuring and protecting our teams is paramount, its never been more important to identify who is more vulnerable and in need of more attention and reassurance. And conversely, those who may adopt a more proactive role or become an anchor for future challenges to come.

Taking (or at this point: ripping out) a page from the proverbial positive psychology book, we must ask ourselves: How can we turn this crisis around so that our employees remember it as the time they felt encouraged and a time of gratitude towards their company.

Knowing that our natural reflexes typically come out in exactly these types of situations, and knowing that people don’t react in the same way, here are certain characteristics you may want to look for.

Stress and Emotion Management

During times of crisis, some may be more susceptible to the physical symptoms associated with stress, such as nervous tension, difficulty concentrating, preoccupation, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue.

They may need support in order to differentiate between what they have no control over (i.e. the global crisis) and what they can control (i.e. taking time to detach, to listen to their bodies, to breath and talk it out with others).

At times, anxiety can even hinder good lifestyle practices, such as getting enough sleep, taking time to eat and/or eating healthy, being physical and being mindful.

Identify those who can be their voice of reason, their ally during this turmoil. Help them to put things into perspective, to separate facts from interpretations or extreme thinking. The goal is to open up the discussion, be attentive and when possible, offer them opportunities to self-regulate and manage their stress and emotion.

Empathy and understanding others

When disaster hits, it’s usually easy to identify colleagues who are more attentive to what others are feeling and who can demonstrate a certain level of emotional intelligence. This is pivotal for not only allowing emotion to be expressed in the first place, but to truly understand the impact a difficult event can have on others. This can help them adjust their rhythm, words, and interventions according to others’ reactions or emotions.

On the other hand, those who lack this “emotional antenna” will have a harder time expressing compassion and predicting reactions – even minimize the effects of a crisis. They will need help understanding what is an appropriate approach, especially with those who are more sensitive, to be attentive to non-verbal expressions, tone of voice and choice of words of their colleagues – anything that indicates that something is wrong or someone feels uneasy.

Looking within

Emotional intelligence (or emotional openness) isn’t only understanding others’ state of mind, but also being able to introspect and connect to your own feelings and emotions. Are you aware of your own reactions during a crisis? Can you demonstrate vulnerability, thus sharing concerns with your team and normalizing what they are going through?

Sometimes, all people want to hear from you when they are feeling uncertain is “me too” or “it’s ok to feel that way”. Moreover, having some emotional intelligence to better understand what and why you are feeling the way you do can help you cope and even recuperate better from a crisis instead of putting off or even burying emotion.

Tolerance to Ambiguity

Crises usually comes with the unknown. So, if employees are more set in their ways, less open to experience or need clarity and a pre-established framework to feel secure in their work, they may be more vulnerable to handling the unfamiliar territory that comes with chaos.

They are more comfortable in an environment where they are not expected to change over time and where they know what to expect. It will be important to first and foremost normalize their feelings of uncertainty and be available to answer their questions. They will need help to build their confidence when faced with grey areas, to trust their judgment when dealing with situations they have never encountered before, and to give them clear direction.

And if you don’t have a clear direction to give, then just be honest and remind them that its ok if we don’t know everything right now, but the goal is to figure it out together.


Some have an easier time rolling with the punches than others.

A crisis can mean doing things differently from here on out, adapting approaches, as well as being open and flexible when faced with novelty and change. So be on the lookout for employees who were once your “guardians” of conformity, method, and rigor, because when chaos hits, a more “agile” mode usually takes precedence. You can let them know that their discipline and consistency are very appreciated but that times like these may require more flexibility, not only on a short-term basis but long-term, as well.

A crisis can also affect those who are motivated by specific organizational preferences or working conditions such as:

Monetary Value

Employees who give a lot of importance to monetary value and compensation may find a crisis like this one to be quite destabilizing.

People are canceling appointments, practicing social distancing and even putting less importance on the products and services you are offering (unless its hand sanitizer and toilet paper of course 😉).

If your remuneration is directly related to closing deals and increasing your network, then this pandemic can spark concerns.

A Need for Security

We all know Maslow’s pyramid of needs, and if some of your employees find themselves towards the bottom half, thus needing a sense of safety and security (even financial security) and belonging, then chances are they may be feeling a bit more worried during these times.

They want to be reassured that their job will be there tomorrow and that they are part of a larger corporate family that will protect them.

Working Remotely

On a positive note, those who seek a company that will offer them the possibility to work from home may be happy to know that some, or should I say many at this point, are taking refuge to protect and reduce the chances of someone contracting the virus, not to mention respecting the social distancing requests of many governments.

However, are your colleagues naturally built to work remotely, well that’s a whole other question. To evaluate one’s efficiency in telecommuting, we need to look at a few things:

  1. Can they organize themselves, make follow-ups and pay attention to detail?
  2. Are they committed? Do they respect their engagements and not give up easily?
  3. Can they maintain their energy while being alone or isolated? Or do they need social contact to be efficient?
  4. Will they follow rules and procedures? Or do they tend to cut corners and even create their own rules at times?

Becoming a remote company overnight brings its own set of challenges. If you’re nervous about the sudden change, we’ve also written an article on some of the things we do to help keep us calm, productive, and efficient as a remote team. Check out the article which we hope will offer some ideas and inspiration on how to manage this new work environment.

This is all a lot to take in. But now, more than ever, is the time to stand together, understand one another, and focus on providing the right environment for our teams to get through this stronger than ever.

We hope these tips will help you navigate these turbulent waters. If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to ask – we’re here to support you and do our part.

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