5 Tips for Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus – a Focus on Compliance and Ethical Leadership

This post is brought to you by Debra Hennelly, Founder & President of Resiliti. Resiliti helps clients develop and sustain personal, team, organizational, brand, community and environmental Resilience. Debra leads a team of experts with decades of experience in ethical and compliance leadership; environment, health and safety; risk assessment and management; security; operations; social responsibility and sustainability; and internal and external communications.

Leading from Wherever You Are to Build Resilience

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has shown us daily examples of courage and leadership in the medical, emergency services and biotech fields, as well as many others. The rest of us also have a part to play in building the resilience we need to help “flatten the curve” of the virus’ spread.

Leading ourselves, our families, our colleagues, and whole organizations requires credible information, practical strategies and candid communication in order to build long-term resilience. Whether you are working from home or going to your workplace, the significant changes in our daily routines can be stressful for everyone. Add to that the stresses of working, running a household, parenting, or caring for an elderly or ill family member through this crisis. Staying informed is key to building our resilience to face these challenges.

Each of us can lead from wherever we are through this crisis, even if we don’t directly manage employees.

5 Tips for Organizational Resilience

1. “Safety first.”

“Safety first” has been the mantra in all of the organizations in which we’ve worked for more than 30 years. First things first. As an individual, you can’t work or help anyone else, unless you take care of your own health and well-being. As an organization, you can’t deliver on your Mission, unless your employees’ health and safety are your top priority.

Pushing people to take health or safety risks might help you deliver your services or products today, but you’ll be jeopardizing their resilience and, consequently, longer-term results for your organization…

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Not knowing what’s happening to us, how long it will last and not having control over it are the sources of stress and anxiety. All of your “stakeholders” — employees, clients, customers, suppliers, shareholders, local community, regulators, etc. — want to hear from you to know that you have your arms around this crisis. It’s human nature to fill in the blanks in the absence of information; so if you’re not saying anything to some stakeholder group, they’ll wonder why and fill that void with assumptions that may or may not be true, such as: (a) you have no plan; (b) you don’t care; ( c) layoffs are coming; (d) senior leadership is only worried about themselves; or (e) all of the above.

Even if all you can say is that you’re working on next steps and will communicate further at some specified time, it’s so important to keep communicating regularly — especially with employees. One best practice we’ve seen is to set a regular time (daily for early stages, weekly later) that they can expect to hear updates. We’ll share more tips about communicating through a crisis in the days to come.

3. Don’t abandon your existing Risk Assessment and Management processes in light of this global crisis.

If you didn’t have a viral pandemic on your risk register, you’re not alone; just take a breath and move forward. You can still have confidence in the processes and procedures you have been using to manage risks. Consider refreshing your Compliance Risk and Culture Assessments to adapt to this new way of working. Identify and assess the new risks and review your assessment of existing risks; then you can adjust your prioritization, develop your risk management plans, and redirect/request resources.

4. Some existing Compliance Risk Areas might require some added focus

Some existing Compliance Risk Areas might require some added focus with some brief communications or refresher training. You and your subject-matter expert colleagues probably have been focusing already on the information security risks of having so many employees working remotely, as well as the business continuity risks of having your supply chain interrupted by the pandemic. Here are three more Risk Areas to consider:

a. Privacy and HIPAA:

In the interest of communicating and managing health risks, organizations are trying to get early warnings from employees who learn they have tested positive for the virus or have been exposed to someone who has. In doing so, we have to remain mindful of protecting the personal and health-related information of those employees when we communicate with other employees. For example, the mayor of a major US city shared — in a press conference — that an emergency services worker in a particular area would not be on the job because he had been exposed to the virus by his girlfriend, who had been exposed at her workplace. Way too much information. (The union raised the issue with the mayor directly…)

If you’re interested in a discussion of potential coronavirus-related EU and UK Data Protection issues, there is an excellent overview on the Cordery firm’s website.

b. Insider Trading:

This is a time rife with opportunities, whether or not intentional, for sharing inside information and/or trading on it. The stock market is on a hair-trigger in reacting to the news wave. During daily press conferences from the White House, we have seen almost immediate market fluctuations. The President has been meeting with leaders of various industries and companies every day (auto, airlines, pharma, biotech, etc.); and your employees might learn that there will be some internal action taken as a result of those meetings. Some of these actions can be as major as shutting down businesses for some period of time. Your employees need to remember that not all of what they are learning is publicly available, and they should not share it or trade on it.

c. Retaliation/Harassment/Discrimination:

Many organizations have updated (or are reviewing) their sick-leave and remote-work policies now. Front-line managers are your most effective conduit for disseminating updated policies AND for incoming information about the virus exposure in your organization. At the same time, these managers are also under tremendous pressure to keep operations running. Stressful circumstances can create opportunities for bullying, making unreasonable demands, or acting out in other ways.

If employees are afraid to have a difficult conversation with their manager — for example, about a virus exposure at home or other personal risk factors (age, pre-existing condition) — and continue to come into work, that creates a risk for others. This is an especially sensitive issue with hourly workers, who fear losing income — or even losing their job — if they don’t come to work.

We have also heard several stories about managers who don’t like the idea of employees working from home and pressuring their teams to keep coming into work. For example, we have heard of managers in three companies (providing “non-essential” services) who were pressuring their team members to come into the office, rather than working from home in accordance with state guidelines, saying — as recently as last week — that the Coronavirus response is a “hoax;” that social-distancing is an “over-reaction” for younger employees; and that if you don’t have symptoms, you can’t be contagious.

Please ensure that your front-line managers understand that they have special responsibilities to: (a) keep their personal opinions about this virus to themselves; (b) stick to the guidance that is communicated internally or communicated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the World Health Organization (WHO) website, or some other government resource that you recommend; (c) be guided by your organization’s Values and policies against discrimination, harassment and retaliation during these stressful times; and (d) encourage employees to speak up about their concerns without fear of retaliation.

5. Reinforce Ethical, Conscious Leadership.

Reinforcing ethical leadership and decision-making will be the best way to guide yourself and your team or organization through this challenging time to sustain your organization’s long-term Mission. As we say — in good times as well as crises — you can’t write a policy for everything or be everywhere, looking over the shoulder of every employee as they make decisions and take actions on behalf of themselves or the organization. Making clear that your decisions and actions are guided by your organization’s Values (and Code of Conduct, which hopefully tracks your Values) — and that senior leadership will stand behind every employee for doing so — is an important way to empower colleagues to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult or when no one is looking over their shoulder.

Be present for yourself, your family, your colleagues, your friends and neighbors. Build your resilience. Stay safe.

For more resources, Debbie and the Resiliti team will be posting additional Resilience Tips on Resiliti’s LinkedIn page. Click here for more information.

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