ISSN 2330-717X

Five Ways To Lead: Workforce Principles For The COVID-19 Pandemic

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As organizations address the longer-term implications of COVID-19, it is imperative to focus on the needs of all stakeholders, from customers to suppliers to shareholders and, specifically, employees. In the current environment, most businesses are having to put in place new measures for their workforces rapidly – often with no previous comparable experiences.

To help guide chief human resource officers and business leaders through this unfolding crisis, the World Economic Forum has launched The Workforce Principles for the COVID-19 Pandemic. Five principles and four management imperatives are a preliminary response to the crisis. Suggested action pathways are provided along with case studies and additional resources in each section. The project was completed in collaboration with Willis Towers Watson.

“This crisis presents an opportunity to take bold actions and show leadership and solidarity,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum. “Responsible employers can apply these principles and guidelines to better balance short-term crisis measures against the medium- and long-term objectives.”

These actions can include protecting salaries and benefits or providing learning opportunities to make progress against reskilling and workforce transformation objectives. Such an approach enables organizations to earn the trust of employees and unlock the discretionary effort needed to move the organization forward in turbulent times.

Five Guiding Principles:

  • See this crisis as a defining leadership moment and continue delivering the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders
  • Adopt an agile and continuous learning mindset to ensure your response is (re)calibrated to the circumstances at hand
  • Understand the perspectives of and engage all stakeholders (e.g., employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers, unions, healthcare providers, community) in decision-making
  • Focus on the intersection of employee and company well-being
  • Make decisions and take actions that consider medium-term needs and longer-term business objectives

Four Management Imperatives:

  • Prioritize planning, well-being and communication – Clearly articulate key policies and procedures, empower local leaders and managers, and prioritize personal and empathic communications
  • Focus on employee experience, engagement and motivation – Lead with integrity and purpose, be active with employee listening, connect employees using new technologies
  • Ensure responsible work redesign – Sustainably manage the shift to flexible/remote working, incorporate contingent labour in a responsible manner, consider a cross-industry talent exchange, make progress towards the longer-term upskilling and reskilling agenda
  • Balance short-term cost concerns with medium-term resilience and rebound – Protect jobs and elements of total rewards, focus on the financial well-being of the most vulnerable employees, take a segmented view of the workforce

 A company’s commitment to its guiding principles is often most tested and most critical when it comes to decisions about labour cost and risk management. Companies must recognize often competing demands and look for innovative solutions. Such an approach enables organizations to earn the trust of employees and unlock the discretionary effort needed to move the organization forward in turbulent times.


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