April 2, 2020

Managing Employee Experience in a Pandemic

By Anna A. Tavis, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor and Academic Director, Human Capital Management

What a difference a week can make in the midst of a pandemic. In a matter of days, companies went from response planning to shutting down facilities and sending employees to work from home. Targeting to “lower the curve” of the highly contagious disease, companies, cities, states, and even nations went into near complete shutdown. By some estimates, the overall loss of productivity in the U.S. in just the first month of the pandemic amounted to about 64 percent. It is becoming increasingly clear that the overall personal and economic toll of the pandemic on the working people around the world will be unprecedented and will by far exceed the financial crisis of 2008.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been invoked amply since the epidemic has begun to spread. For many companies, ensuring the safety of their employees came first, followed by making technology tools available. Technology turned out to be the easier part. In the next step, managers’ attention needs to be directed to a different set of moments that matter: employee experience (EX) at the time of a pandemic.

For many, the required change of behavior to “social distancing” became a euphemism for “physical and social isolation,” representing the true psychological stress test to the collaborative cultures companies worked so hard to build. The compounded threat of the contagious disease, the impact on employees’ families, job security, and the disruption to the invisible social fabric of life in general may leave lasting scars and impede eventual recovery after the crisis.

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