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Leading Through COVID-19: How People Leaders Can Support Their Employees

Mary O'Hara, Blue Shield of California's chief human resources officer, says leaders need to balance short-term pain with long-term impact

This is a pretty surreal moment in history. The COVID-19 pandemic has a deep and broad ​effect on every aspect of our lives. Professionally, we’ve had to radically and quickly transform how we work in order to address the outbreak. Personally, we are feeling the weight of this in so many ways, facing new challenges and dynamics at home as we shelter in place.

As I think about the ways that we, as people leaders, can support our employees during this time, I take comfort in knowing that it’s during crises that people leaders can shine. There has never been a more critical time to lead with a sense of humanity and purpose.

Mary OHara_Boardroom 2018sq
Mary O'Hara

Whether you’re a chief human resources officer or a leader of a team of two, here are four ways you can support your employees during this pandemic:

  1. Lead by example, both in your actions and your tone

This virus is contagious and so is our mood. Employees look to you to set the tone and create a path forward. They can sense whether you are hopeful or not. While we are all facing a lot of uncertainty, it’s important to remain calm, and understand this is something we will get through. It’s important to convey a sense of hope to your people through your actions and words.

  1. Share clear, factual information frequently

When there is an absence of information, it creates uncertainty and it can lead people to speculate. Work hard to help your leaders lead with the facts. While we are bombarded by news and countless opinions about the outbreak and its impact on businesses of all sizes, it’s your role as a leader to filter out the noise and communicate the facts. Be transparent about what you do and don’t know. Open two-way communications channels, solicit questions and request feedback often.

  1. Balance short-term pain with long-term impact

The impact this pandemic has on the bottom line will be dramatically different for every company, but the character of your organization’s leadership is what people will see now and remember in the long term. When making decisions during this very painful moment in time, always consider the long-term impact. Can you consider a wider spectrum of options before settling on a decision? Be creative.

  1. Show gratitude and encourage balance

Now more than ever is the time for gratitude. We are all balancing a lot right now and your employees need to hear they are appreciated. Tell them. Often. And consider instituting boundaries within your organization to let them know you understand the juggling act they are attempting. Help employees find their center of gravity and balance their priorities.

While we at Blue Shield of California settle into another month of shelter in place, here are some ways we are continuing to support our employees:

  • We’re offering an enhanced paid-leave program, work-from-home tools and reimbursement for teleworking costs.
  • We launched the Shield Cares Giving Campaign this month to boost employee giving to any California-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a 2:1 company match.
  • We launched Silver Linings, an internal photo-sharing campaign in which employees can connect about how they are living our company values – human, honest and courageous – during this time.

Please be well and take care of yourself, your colleagues and your families.