Taking Care of Your Employees and Yourself During the Pandemic

By Cheryl L. Serra July 9, 2020
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stressed woman

​Rosa Crespo, SHRM-SCP, took her first human resources assignment in 1996. Twenty-four years later, COVID-19 nearly brought the HR manager at Universal Synergetics, in Marlton, N.J., to her knees. With parents in their 80s and a sister and brother-in-law with compromised immune systems, Crespo was worried, both personally and in her role as an HR department of one for more than 30 employees and many temporary employees. The challenges of COVID-19 have seemed insurmountable at times.

Early in the pandemic, she was nearly in tears and almost admitting defeat to a company vice president. He offered to let her work from home. But she wondered, if she did so, who would help take care of the staff? So she stayed in the office.

Across the world, managers and HR professionals are trying to figure out how to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of the staff against the backdrop of changing coronavirus data and related rules and regulations. Often, they regard their self-care as secondary to the help they provide the people they serve.

Strength in Collaboration

Bill Myhre knows the power of collaboration. Myhre has been in HR for 30 years and is currently senior director of Workforce Transformation, part of a Medicaid program redesign in New York state. His job involves working with 10 nursing homes, two hospitals and more than 40 community organizations to transform their workforces through reskilling, upskilling and designing new career pathways, such as apprentice programs approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The collaborative models Myhre relies on to get things done have worked so well, they've been put to use for other challenges, including encouraging staff self-care to alleviate the stress of providing health care, tackling rampant opioid abuse and dealing with COVID-19.

"The stress that we're feeling is [due to] the opioid epidemic," Myhre responded when asked if he and others with whom he works have felt additional stress since the COVID-19 outbreak. This is why they worked so hard to create the certified recovery peer-advocate apprenticeship. Program graduates can help emergency department staff by providing additional help to people in recovery.

Myhre says the certified nurse assistant apprenticeship graduates "were a critical added resource during the time of COVID," providing extra hands to help.

Yoga and Outreach

Betsy Kimmel is a human rights consultant providing staff care through yoga in Bangladesh. She has served as an HR consultant and as an HR director for a growing international, nongovernment organization in the country. A yoga instructor, she's been offering online courses for some time.

For recent chair-yoga sessions, she was mindful of what she wore; acceptable attire in one country may not be acceptable in another. So she was fully clothed, including a scarf around her neck.

Other services she and others she works with are providing employees include counseling services, food delivery, additional compensation and online group activities. And sometimes the benefits these services provide aren't costly at all.

"We've got a bunch of people doing chair yoga. If anything, we have them all laughing," she said.

Kimmel gets information on self-care from sources such as Harvard University and Duke University Integrative Medicine, and she stays up-to-date on any information released by the United Nations. She continuously tries to learn.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

Take Care of Yourself

Crespo said she's learned a lot on the job this year about self-care.

Once she decided not to leave her job and all its COVID-19-caused chaos, she transformed into the voice and (covered) face of reason and resolve. She also became the creator and enforcer of workplace rules, including the requirement to wear a face covering.

At the pandemic's outset, she was stressed and not sleeping well. She worried about those with whom she worked. "I felt like everybody's mother," she said.

She stopped watching as much news on television, which she says was too much for her. She stayed away from social media. She got the pandemic-related news she needed from reliable sources, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every morning, she spoke to her sister, who she said is a "good sounding board."

Her personal life, including dinners at home with her family, provided a sense of normalcy. She downloaded a yoga app and continues to practice while gyms are closed.

Myhre said he was initially feeling the stress of adapting to new technologies, new ways of doing business, and "the nagging feeling about how to measure productivity and balance outside work needs."

"Despite all those challenges, we have moved our agenda forward; new business opportunities are coming about," he said.

Kimmel said meditation and using the treadmill help her manage stress. "No matter where you are in the world, you have to take care of people."

And sometimes, that means taking care of yourself.

Cheryl L. Serra is a freelance writer in Southport, N.C.

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