Coping with Unexpected Staffing Changes: More From the Experts

Posted May 13, 2020 by Justworks in Managing Your Team
Staffing changes are a difficult reality for employers amid COVID-19. Discover more around coping through our Q&A with experts from Justworks and Octave.

As COVID-19 continues to impact companies everywhere, many employers are wondering how they’ll take care of their teams. Given this uncertainty, Justworks partnered with customer Octave to host a webinar that aimed to help answer some of the small business community’s most pressing questions on coping with staffing changes. Together, Justworks’ HR Consultant Moses Balian and Octave’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Sarah Adler talked through many of the questions submitted around the topic.

We had so many great questions submitted for the webinar that we ran out of time to answer them live. Read on for another round of questions and answers with Moses and Dr. Adler around coping with staffing changes.

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Engaging Employees to Ease Stress

Can Dr. Adler share her checklist for remote work preparation?

In the webinar, Octave’s Dr. Sarah Adler said that stress is highest in the workplace when people don’t feel like they can do their jobs. She mentioned checklists she uses to engage her teams in coordinating what they need to succeed while working remotely during COVID-19. Webinar attendees were curious to learn more about these kinds of checklists.

While the checklist Dr. Adler gave to her employees was specific to psychotherapy, she recommends that employers do job-specific audits to ensure that the transition to working remotely is as seamless as possible for employees. Do they have fast enough internet speed to support online meetings? Are there personal barriers, like children or roommates, that make it more stressful for them to do their jobs?

“Helping your employees think through their needs is a good way to show that you are supportive of their unique circumstances,” she said. “You can assess whether you have the resources to help them address some of these barriers. At Octave we reimbursed our teams for office supplies that help make their WFH environments more comfortable, and helped work through solutions for those who couldn’t do their jobs from their homes.”

“The key,” Dr. Adler said, “is to not make assumptions about your employees' situations and express flexibility and support when you can.”

How can we productively engage with remaining employees and help ease some of their stress even though we’re working remotely?

“Don’t overdo it on video meetings,” Moses said. “Some employees find them exhausting.”

Justworks’ Moses Balian suggests team hangouts for a fun way to reduce stress and build morale.

“Do it during work hours so it doesn’t feel like extra work,” he offered. Hopping into a Zoom room to just hang out won’t always equate to an effective team bonding exercise, and people might start to get Zoom fatigue. “Don’t overdo it on video meetings,” Moses said. “Some employees find them exhausting.”

For employers who’d like to go above and beyond with something more personalized, Moses suggests sending a thoughtful gift to their home. The gift can be a simple good book or yoga mat — something that inspires positive behavior.

Offering Mental Health and Wellness Resources

Do you have any tips on resources to share with staff for wellness and mental health?

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is one resource employers could offer. EAPs connect member employees to confidential, professional assistance to help with personal, family, and work issues. Although their offerings can be quite broad, many EAP services either directly or indirectly address mental health.

“In a small company, giving employees the credit to understand your decisions imbues them with tremendous ownership, which equals engagement especially in tough times.”

Another option is offering access to a help line or counseling service like Talkspace. These teletherapy services, often available 24/7, provide reliable, confidential assistance with mental health issues, and are especially helpful when in-person appointments aren’t possible. Octave offers similar services, including evidence-based therapy, clinical coaching, support groups, and skills based workshops with the aim to increase access to quality mental healthcare. Informed by data, Octave matches their clients with the right therapist, coach, or group and creates a customized plan to support them and their needs.

Can you share more about mindfulness? The definition, as well as how to practice it?

“Mindfulness is the act of intentionally turning your attention to the present moment," Dr. Adler said. “I like to think of mindfulness as a muscle that you can engage and strengthen over time, with practice. You can start building your mindfulness practice by simply and intentionally turning your attention to anything at all.”

“You could start with awareness of things that you do every day,” she explained. This can include anything from breathing to thinking, as well as things that you see, hear, feel, or taste.

Act with Compassion and Empathy

What advice or cautions would you give for the non-impacted employees in terms of communication with furloughed employees? We want to continue to support those affected, and encourage connection, but aren’t sure what parameters or guidance we should provide.

According to Moses, “the most important thing is to avoid giving current employees directives, or forbid them from addressing certain topics with former colleagues.” Non-impacted employees will likely only communicate with colleagues that are personal friends or mentors, so employers shouldn’t feel the need to impose unrealistic expectations on them.

“Mindfulness is the act of intentionally turning your attention to the present moment."

“This is not something I would've recommended in normal times, but in light of COVID-19 I think everyone is giving everyone else a little more slack — exercising more empathy,” Moses said. “In a small company, giving employees the credit to understand your decisions imbues them with tremendous ownership, which equals engagement especially in tough times.”

How do you suggest communicating with non-impacted employees around new employees hired to meet Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness requirements? Team members will seem confused, frustrated, and slighted, especially if their job has been impacted.

“It really depends on the circumstances,” Moses said. “Perhaps you terminate a solid engineer, and hire a very strong engineer who was laid off by Startup Y whose business is hurting more than yours.” Ingratiate them to the staff in order to humanize them, which Moses said can liberate the engineer of being seen as someone’s replacement.

Do you recommend using the term ‘survivors’ when referring to staff who survived layoffs? People seem really divided on this and I'd love to hear a poll or thoughts from the experts.

Dr. Adler advised against introducing that language to employees, and suggested that employers evaluate if it does come up organically. How is it being used? Is it productive, or is it creating stress?

“Generally when strong language is used, it indicates that there are strong feelings underneath,” she said. “Assess and discuss the strong emotions that underlie any strong words your team is using to describe their experience.”

Moses said the term “survivor” should be used with care. “It’s a classic colloquialism with respect to layoffs,” he explained. However, in the current health crisis, where people (employees among them) are losing their lives, Moses said the term is imbued with a gravitas never before witnessed in our lifetime. If any employees are using this term when referring to current employees, make the effort to discuss with them privately and ensure they understand what’s appropriate moving forward.

Register here to join our next webinar and submit your own questions, or watch the recordings that are posted after each session. In the meantime, we’ll continue to help you navigate the new normal by providing up-to-date information so you can continue working fearlessly through these changing times.


Dr. Sarah Adler is the Chief Clinical Officer at Octave, a modern behavioral health practice offering evidence-based therapy, clinical coaching, support groups, and skills-based workshops in New York, San Francisco, and virtually. Sarah is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, where she leads the design and implementation of Measurement Based Care for the department.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.