Supporting Employees in Crisis – A Hidden Gem in Retention Strategy

Ed Baldwin Benefits, Culture, Ed Baldwin, employee experience, Good HR, HR

Companies have long sought actions they could take to increase engagement and retention and keep good people.  Among these strategies – above market compensation, stock options, long term incentives, work flexibility, work from home, lunch subsidies, comprehensive and fully-paid benefits packages and a really cool and hip workspace – all these help support retention efforts. 

But one overlooked strategy is much easier and less costly to employ – to support your employees when they are in crisis. 

Maybe they are going through an ugly divorce, or a parent has abruptly passed, one of their children is in trouble with the law, a sister was just involved in a serious car accident, or their spouse has been diagnosed with cancer.  You get the picture. 

They need help.  They need support.  They need flexibility.  And if you provide it? 

They’ll never forget it.  EVER. 

When your employees face such crisis do you pull out your FMLA policy and promptly hand them a pile of paperwork to complete to substantiate their leave?  Do you quote chapter and verse and advise that they don’t have the required one year of service to qualify for such leave?  Do you leave them to find someone to cover their shift or be ready for the pile up of work in their absence when they return?  Do you ask for the death certificate to substantiate the leave? 

If you do, then not only are you serving as the policy police and NOT treating them like a person, you’re also missing a huge opportunity. 

In my experience, if you respond instead quickly and with empathy for their situation, and tell them to take the time they need and that you’ll do everything you can to cover for them in their absence, they’ll be eternally grateful.  If you tell them “we will get the necessary paperwork completed later, just go take care of your personal business and everyone in the company is wishing a speedy recovery for your sister” – that’s retention gold.

The payback you’ll receive on that kind of response is exponential.  That employee will never forget how gracious you and the company were in their time of greatest need.  And they’ll pay back that flexibility in the future without even thinking about it. 

When people are vulnerable, that’s when the company’s response to their situation is most scrutinized.  It’s when the company’s character is tested.  Do you REALLY care about your employees?  

When you ask for a death certificate for their uncle in order to take a day off?  Well, you’ve answered that question, LOUDLY.  Don’t make that mistake.  Don’t read them the policy.  Trust that they are being truthful and aren’t pulling a fast one on you.  Trust that they really do have a family emergency and need the work flexibility. 

The contrary is always the exception, not the rule.  Don’t manage to the exception. 

If you do allow them time off during crisis and extend them trust and flexibility, when they get that call from a recruiter about their dream job that opened up that is willing to pay them 25% more than their current role, they’ll think twice.  And when they talk to their spouse or brother about taking that same opportunity, their family will remind them that you gave them the time they needed (without hassle) when their sister was in that serious car accident.  The family will remember how understanding the company was through that family trauma and it will cause your employee to think long and hard about whether they would have been treated the same by the new company. 

They might leave and take that other dream job, or they might decide to stay…because by extending empathy and flexibility during their crisis – you affirmed that their current job is a dream job too, and was so just when they needed it most.