Your company’s crisis response will affect post-COVID employee retention

Are you creating a renewed sense of loyalty or pushing folks into new job opportunities? HR pro Talia Edmundson lays out a plan for getting back to work in a new reality.

The post-pandemic return to the office will look different.

(Photo by Marc Mueller from Pexels)

This is a guest post by Talia Edmundson, founder of HRnB Consulting.
The conversation is shifting from furloughs and layoffs to reopening and returning to work, and I’ve been wondering if companies are prepared to be introspective enough to consider how their crisis response will affect post-COVID employee retention.

Several companies, many of which are here in the Philadelphia area, did an excellent job with their pandemic response — I see you Seer Interactive, Blackfynn, American Reading Company and Iron Hill Brewery. Sadly, the number of companies that have responded poorly seem to outnumber the good. Somewhere in the middle of company panic, the human element was neglected and people were hurt.

There was no playbook for this situation, but keep in mind — employees are taking notes.

There are two ways companies can move forward post-COVID. They can double down on great efforts or be honest enough to admit to what could have been done better, learn from mistakes, and create their own future of work. Effective retrospectives need to serve as company-specific foundations for a process I’m calling reboarding for retention.

Bringing back your workers

Let’s start by talking about furloughed employees who will return to work. While they were temporarily let go, the work they were doing prior didn’t just disappear. It was absorbed by another employee. Will the work be the same when the employee returns? Were there tech enhancements, process improvements or other efficiencies that will result in a retrain requirement? Remember, these folks were highly productive in their positions just three months before they were labeled “nonessential.” The psychological component that will accompany the employee’s return needs to be a consideration.

Remote work reality

Next, for company leaders who believed work from home (WFH) would be a temporary, short-term response, please understand, WFH has created a completely different approach to how employees have structured their lives. Is WFH ideal for everyone? Nope. Do some love it? Yup. A global health crisis is not a typical WFH situation and I agree, this is not a standard WFH arrangement. Folks are home, during a crisis, trying to work, homeschool, adult, survive, and show they’re capable of maintaining high levels of performance under a very intense situation. Future success will not be measured the way it was three months ago.


Employees have been able to prove they can work from anywhere and companies expecting to return to business as usual need to prepare to answer why alternative work arrangements are not long-term options. Companies committed to “back to normal” need to prepare for turnover.

Policy power

Now, let’s check in on company policies and handbook basics:

  • Unused or unapproved PTO: Does it get paid out or will everyone be off for the entire month of December?
  • Bereavement time (aka one of the most dated policies in corporate America): What happens to the people who have lost loved ones and were robbed of the opportunity to grieve properly?
  • Think about traditional benefits for a moment:
    • Telehealth use likely spiked. Were copays and deductibles too costly?
    • Did the employee assistance program fully support employees in crisis?
    • Is it time to build new benefit programs that can withstand future emergencies?

Preparing your space

Social distancing is a way of life for the foreseeable future, creating safety challenges for every office environment. Facilities employees were likely furloughed because, well, kitchens and living rooms became offices. Calling facilities people back to work sooner rather than later needs to be a priority. These are the professionals who will support reconfiguring office spaces to maximize social distancing efforts and safety measures. Facilities folks will likely be responsible for complying with OSHA’s return-to-work guidelines. Pennsylvania is taking reopen guidelines even further by requiring employers to name a “pandemic safety officer.” Frequent deep cleans, PPE, controlling common areas, determining how many people can be in the building at once — it’s a whole new world of working. This is not, exclusively, for HR to manage.


Compensation beyond performance increases and annual salary budget planning needs to be reviewed. Employees across the country have taken a reduction in pay. Ecommerce retailers, in particular, are posting record sales days as a result of living room retail therapy, doorstep delivery vs in-store shopping, and stimulus checks doing what they do. It’s tough for employees to tolerate working at a reduced salary while watching sales days hit historic highs. This is especially difficult for the folks who have experienced an increased workload, as a result of their furloughed team member. Companies who are preparing a “back to normal” strategy, need to develop a compensation restoration plan, and quickly.

Time to hire

Plug #hiringnow into a LinkedIn search and the list of companies who are hiring is extensive. The positions are not the gig/entry-level positions employers are likely imagining. Companies are hiring to meet demand in spaces that will continue to expand to meet the permanent adjustments people have made to their lives. There are promising, career-forward opportunities available and it’s a false reassurance for companies who tell themselves the job market isn’t there. Newly created jobs, created from efficiencies, technological advances, and redeveloped business initiatives will be a significant driver of the new job market.


There is no such thing as a “back to normal.” Even before the pandemic, normal was subjective. The word itself fails to acknowledge difference and at times, emphasizes sameness. We are permanently changed. How has your company managed the pandemic? Has the response focused on empathy and humanity or was the human element neglected, leaving folks feeling disposable?

A company’s pandemic response will either push folks into new job opportunities or, through reboarding for retention, create a renewed sense of loyalty. Let’s identify the improvements that can be made, ensuring a return to work that is designed with an intentional approach, practicing care and acknowledging employees’ new needs.

Series: Coronavirus
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