How to Engage Your Team Facing the Coronavirus

In this post we discuss the 8 needs that employees encounter with the likely spread of the Coronavirus and how we can apply the four-step compassion model to deliver the best performance, production, and profits. In the previous blog post, we discussed four areas of uncertainty that employees face with the Coronavirus.

My wife and I have co-authored two books on Compassion in the workplace. The ROI of Compassion (2018) is written both a resource manual and a strategic tool for Human Resources professionals, Managers, and Executives facing traumatic situations. Leading with the Power of Compassion (2019) is written to help alleviate the pain of employee disengagement. Murfield Coaching helps solve problems with disruptive thinking.

NOTE: This is a lengthy blog post but well worth your time. Use it as a resource for your team.

Compassion and the Workplace

Can Compassion Improve the Bottom Line, even with the Coronavirus?

Absolutely!!!  In fact, being compassionate is the most profitable way to do business. While many believe just the opposite, we find that companies generate their best ROI when they help employees cope during traumatic times that occur outside of the workplace. The Coronavirus is inflicting pain on companies around the globe.

How can we be more compassionate, helping to alleviate the pain of our employees and customers while ensuring our viability as a business?

We define compassion as “coming alongside another to help alleviate their pain.” Those organizations and leaders who practice compassion on a daily basis unleash the ultimate performance, production, and profits by creating an engaged culture. The leadership principle behind the ROI of compassion is fairly simple. “They engage when we engage. They begin to care when we show we care. Their pain is our pain, whether we want it or not.”

To engage workers in their pain, whether traumatic or daily frustrations, we created a four-step model that includes: Noticing, Feeling (from their perspective), Strategically Thinking (how to help alleviate their pain), and Acting (at the appropriate time.) The first two steps comprise empathy, sensing their pain, that when combined with the last two steps form compassion.

NOTICE: As leaders, pay attention to your team. Notice their routine, behavior, communication, and performance. Has it changed? What is their pain?

FEEL: Now switch. Looking at the situation from their perspective, why is this situation painful? Don’t judge. Everyone has specific needs so you want to see the situation through their eyes, ears, and heart. Listen carefully to appreciate and understand their pain from their perspective.

THINK: Now switch back to your perspective. Ask yourself, and other appropriate team members, “How can we best help alleviate their pain?” Create the policy and detail the action plan that will be effective. NOTE: Don’t get distracted from your purpose. It is easy to create a policy or take an action that makes us feel good but doesn’t alleviate their pain.

ACT: Take the action at the appropriate time to help alleviate the pain.

8 Needs of Team Members

Employees will face eight different types of challenges during the threat of Coronavirus or any other traumatic event. As business leaders, especially Human Resources, managers, and executives, we are wise to be mindful that facing trauma is not simple. It is often very complicated and time consuming.

At the same time, prevention is worth a pound of cure. Compassion during trauma does have a high ROI. Some leaders challenge that point, believing compassion is an unnecessary or ill-advised expense. However, when factoring in turnover, presenteeism, and disengagement, small gestures like stopping to notice how an employee is doing or taking time to listen to their concerns has significant returns over the long term (and sometimes the short term.)

To realize that ROI we need to spend time noticing and feeling for them from their perspective before we begin strategically thinking how we need to construct policies and act.

Intellectual Needs

Notice that the most pressing need for most employees at this writing is the need for information. As we discussed previously, reducing uncertainty is critical. Feel their uncertainty. Then think through what information they need. Communication is critical in reducing uncertainty. Act urgently to provide information addressing the following questions:

  • Who is most at risk? (Those over 60 or with underlying health conditions are most vulnerable to Coronavirus. Within this message, note that younger adults and children seldom experience more than normal flu symptoms. Also note that the vast majority of those infected survive.)
  • What can be done to avoid being infected? (Wash hands. Keep Distance. Avoid crowds. Sanitize surfaces.)
  • What you are doing to prevent the spread into your workplace? (Communicate what you are doing. Let them see you doing it. For example, if you say you are sanitizing more often, they should see someone doing it. If they don’t see it, there is uncertainty it is being done. )
  • Is this fake news? (Some believe there is no threat. Quote up to date numbers for your area and for the country. )
  • Why is this virus more dangerous? (There is a significantly higher rate of death than for the elderly than the normal flu. There is no antidote at this time.)
  • When will it end? (No one is sure at this time. Most flu viruses subside in warmer temperatures but experts are not sure about COVID-19 yet. Yes, it is fine to say that. Tell the truth. At the same time, you can assure them that other viruses like SARS and MERS were much worse and they subsided and eventually were no threat.)

Physical Needs

It doesn’t take much to notice that no one wants to get sick and when they do, they want to get better quickly.

  • Notice how they look. Are they sneezing or showing other signs? Feel their pain of having this virus. Think through what they need. They need to go home, self-report, and self-quarantine. Do they need physical help or quarantine space? What is your role? Act quickly.
  • Notice those not infected. Notice their behaviors, specifically touching their face, washing their hands, and using sanitizer.
  • Notice those who are taking the right measures that require a sacrifice such as commuting. Feel their pain. Do they feel safe taking public transportation? If they feel unsafe, do they have private transportation? If so, do they have access to parking? How will that increased cost affect their financial needs? Think through what, if any assistance you can provide. One of the things you can do is thank them for their diligence. Communicate your appreciation. Act swiftly in your communication.
  • Notice the need for Working Remotely. Do they need a computer, printer, or other technology? Will they be able to communicate quickly and effectively with you and the rest of the team? Feel their uncertainty (or their joy) for making this change. Think through this important shift. There is much to consider that cannot be debated for months. Act quickly. Your business may depend on a quick transition.

Psychological Needs

Everyone wants to live in a world that is predictable, safe, and comfortable. The uncertainty of this virus threatens each of those three. Life is not predictable because we don’t know if we will be infected and need to be quarantined. We don’t know if we are safe, even in our own homes much less in the workplace. That makes us all very uncomfortable.

As a leader, communicate with them to help them

  • Notice what is predictable. (If you are under 60 with no underlying health conditions, even if you are infected, you will probably only have mild flu symptoms. Kids don’t seem to be affected beyond cold or minor flu symptoms. Find what is predictable and assure them of that. Communicate predictability.)
  • Feel for what will make them safe. (The virus is spread primarily through touching your face or breathing respiratory droplets from another. Stay safe by not touching your face and staying 10 feet away from others. Maintaining those practices will greatly enhance your safety. Communicate to ensure their safety.)
  • Think through what will Comfort them. (Whether or not our fears are real, we own them. As a leader you can provide information so they don’t panic. Panic is caused by a lack of good information. Communicate often, especially to those who are feeling uncomfortable. This is one of the most effective strategies you can take is to communicate comfort. You are a leader and will work to ensure their safety as best you can. Even if they are infected, you will help them work through it. Communicate to comfort.)
  • Act quickly to make their world as predictable, safe, and comfortable.

Family Needs

People care about their family. When their family is ill or their needs change, your employees are distracted and cannot deliver peak performance. As a leader, be conscious and compassionate towards these needs. What can you do to adjust your policies to accommodate these caregivers? Do they need flex time, working remotely, or short term leave? What other ways can you come alongside of your employees to help alleviate their pain.

  • Notice which team members are Caretakers. (Over 43 million workers care for a family member, most of them over the age of 65 and most vulnerable to this virus. Many are caring for that parent in the employee’s home. Others care for the family member by helping them with errands. That parent or family member likely lives in their own residence. Still others live in care facilities. As seen in the Kirkland, Washington nursing home deaths, this population is extremely vulnerable to the disease.)
  • Notice those with young children in Childcare. (What percentage of your workforce cares for their children? How many are in daycare? How many go to school? Who takes care of those children if the schools or daycare closes?)
  • Notice how much attention they are giving their own Self-Care. (Caregivers are not only trying to do their own jobs but are responsible for aging relatives. It is taxing enough to avoid being infected for their own good but they have added responsibilities. Who takes care of their family if they are infected?)
  • Feel the pain of caretakers. They are good. moral people who care deeply for others. Think how they make your organization valuable. What can you do to help alleviate their pain? As leaders of organizations, our resources have limits. However, there may be outside resources that would help them. Act quickly to share that information and anything else you can do.

Career Needs

Notice that team members need jobs. One of the very real fears of any pandemic is the accompanying economic downturn. Notice what the thought of catching a potentially dangerous or deadly virus convinces many to stay home, avoiding restaurants, travel, and events. It doesn’t take much, even a 5% or 10% drop to create a reduction in hours or even layoffs for those businesses. What was a stable income suddenly becomes a significant fear.

Feel the pain of lost wages, either a reduction in hours or loss of their job.

Think through your option beginning with your commitment to them. They need to hear that they won’t lose their job because of something they couldn’t control. They need assurance that even if they are infected and need to be quarantined, their job is safe. Assure them that they are a valued team member, that you will do everything in your power to protect their job and their paycheck.

Think through the practicalities and urgency of Working Remotely. The spread of Coronavirus may make this a requirement. Some that have neglected or refused to embrace the virtual workplace are now reconsidering because they don’t see any other choice. Address the issue. Although it may not be perfect, embracing a virtual workplace may be your best option)

Think through your policy about Paid Leave. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Paid sick leave was available to 71 percent of workers in private industry in March 2018. Paid sick leave was available to 31 percent of workers with an average wage in the lowest 10 percent and to 92 percent of workers with an average wage in the highest 10 percent. For those with paid leave, exert your authority for the benefit of the entire team and require infected team members to go home. For those without paid leave, pay them if at all possible. It will be far less expensive in the long run. Turnover is extremely expensive.

Think through other policies, such as caretakers. Do you have a policy? Is your policy adequate to alleviate employee pain and ensure your viability as a business? If not, create a policy or revise the old one reflects your values, engages your employees, and delivers the best long-term success for the organization.

Act with urgency.

Financial Needs

Notice there are hidden costs to catching the virus that you may not have considered, such as

  • Who pays for being tested?
  • Who pays if hospitalization is needed?
  • Can you help with incurred childcare costs?
  • If plans are changed, can you show them how to get their money back from airlines and hotels?

Feel their pain of those additional costs.

Think strategically what you can do to help alleviate them. If you find you cannot pay for them through the business, is there other forms of assistance? If not, communicate that you understand and why the business cannot afford to pay for those expenses.

Act quickly to communicate what can or cannot be done. If assistance can be made, let them know the timeline for the action.

Social Needs

Notice that most people don’t like being separated from their friends. We enjoy dining out, attending parties, and going to events. We also enjoy being involved in sporting events and engaging in philanthropic or charitable organizations. These activities bring meaning to our lives. Any type of quarantine restricts those activities and frustrate us. Notice that quarantine periods in China and Italy have lasted a week or two. Italy has quarantined the entire country.

Feel their pain of isolation. This isolation begins early as people need to consider changing plans for travel and events that they are looking forward to. That pain is significant. Feel for them in two specific situations.

  • Change of plans. The spread of the virus is forcing almost everyone to change plans. Do they go out to eat? Do they go to the concert?
  • Altering plans. Should they cancel my vacations? Should they cancel a visit to see family? Should they postpone their wedding? If so, will they get any money back from cancelled airfare?

Think through what resources you can offer or, probably most appropriate, ones that you can connect them to. Do you have someone in the workplace that knows how to deal with airlines? hotels? event venues? Do you have an in house attorney? Can you dedicate one or two people to assist with these situations?

Act. While this situation may not be as urgent as previous ones, it is always critical in showing compassion to do what you say you are going to do at the appropriate time. Keep your promises. This will pay huge dividends in building an engaged culture.

Spiritual Needs

Notice that people need a connection to something intangible that helps them make sense of the world. Many practice their religious faiths because it brings immense meaning. Others are more spiritual and less organized in their behavior but still find meaning in a higher being. Still others sense a need for connection but don’t outwardly express it. Rest assured that in times of trauma or uncertainty, everyone turns to something for stability and meaning.

Feel their need for connection and meaning. This is especially true if they have lost a loved one to the virus, have been diagnosed. or are stressed and in a vulnerable status.

Think through this very sensitive issue. Most workplaces have avoided elements of faith, fearing dissension. This isn’t the time to preach to anyone but listen carefully and strategize how you can help them connect in the best way. One of the best ways to approach them is to ask their closest co-workers. They already have the trust of that individual and can broach the subject appropriately. Work within their values to help them connect with what they find most beneficial.

Act appropriately in gesture and action. Remember, this is a very sensitive subject. If done well, they will be eternally grateful. If not done well, they will feel violated. Most of all, remember that failing to take any action will be interpreted as not caring. Remember, apathy ruins relationships.

Contact us today. We want to help you solve your problem due to the Coronavirus.

Blog Schedule

  • Mind Shift Monday features a powerful quote that sets the tone for a week of innovative thinking.
  • Thinking Bigger Tuesday expands on the topic and provides pillar content of innovative thinking.
  • Why Not Wednesday introduces you to books, articles and research that I have found useful in solving significant problems with innovative thinking.
  • Transformational Thursday explores a TED Talk on the topic of the week. These talks are likely taken from the ones I have featured in my TED Talk Think Tank mastermind for radical change over the last five years.
  • Far Out Friday features crazy ideas that just might lead to solving your persistent problem.

Learn to Listen Effectively




Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

Phone: 813-308-9626

We work with leaders and organizations to solve significant problems with innovative thinking. What problem is frustrating you? Contact us today.

Start learning how you can engage employees during their most traumatic moments in our newly revised and just-released book, “The ROI of COMPASSION” and “Leading with the Power of Compassion.” 

Leading with the Power of Compassion: Creating a Cutting-Edge Culture through Engagement

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