Leading Employees through a Crisis

To view these guidelines in American Sign Language, please visit this link: https://youtu.be/uPV91O9uOGY.

During these times of uncertainty, there is heightened fear and anxiety among our employees. There is disruption in their daily lives, both personal and professional. The University is counting on supervisors to manage, motivate, and lead employees during times of crisis.  Instead of administrative work and meetings, supervisors should prioritize focusing on coaching their employees to ensure that the quality of work has not been impacted significantly. While it is impossible to predict where this will lead us, we need to remember one thing: the University is stronger together than we are alone. You can lead employees by following the tips below:

  • Maintain a sense of calm. 

    • Convey a calm, confident and reassuring leadership style. When things are uncertain, there can be feelings of tension and feelings of insecurity. It is important to maintain a consistent attitude and demeanor with your team members to promote a sense of stability. 

    • Remind yourself that you will get through this, and there are people who are counting on you to lead the way. Do ask other supervisors’ support in sharing advice and tips.

  • Be honest and open. 

    • Although you cannot always share every detail of what is happening, providing your team with relevant information in a timely and professional manner will help reduce their speculation and fear.

    • Be available for your team. You should allow your employees to ask questions and share their concerns with you. If you are uncertain of yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out to the right department and ask questions.

  • Lead with Empathy. 

    • This is a time where leadership presence is critical. Employees are going through a range of emotions during crises due to concerns for their own safety, families, friends, jobs, and financial security. It is important for supervisors/managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles.

    • Ask questions. A general question such as “How is this work situation working out for you so far?” can elicit important information that you might not otherwise hear. Once you ask the question, be sure to listen carefully to the response, and briefly restate it back to the employee, to ensure that you understood correctly. Let the employee’s stress or concerns (rather than your own) be the focus of this conversation. 

    • You can promote available resources such as the Gallaudet Coronavirus website (which includes information on the 24/7 Call Center) and the Employee Assistance Program

  • Restrict negative behavior.

    • Even though anger is part of this process, be sure the line is drawn at actual abuse, harassment and verbal venting of anger on other people. Make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that behavior of this sort will not be tolerated. 

    • If one of your team members is still displaying negative behavior, have a conversation with the employee about the behaviors being unacceptable.  Avoid using your own personal judgments--focus on the behaviors instead.

  • Establish “rules of engagement.”

    • In times of crisis and managing a team, work becomes more efficient and satisfying when supervisors set clear expectations and guidance.

    • Give directions on what to do and what not to do.

    • Provide clear guidance on priorities for team members to rally around and contribute to. 

    • Set structured regular check-ins, whether it is daily, several times per week, or periodically, depending on your employees’ needs and your needs. This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls (if your employees work more independently from each other) or a team call (if their work is highly collaborative).

    • The important feature is that the check-ins are regular and predictable and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you and that their concerns and questions will be heard.  This helps provide structure and invites feedback.  

  • Acknowledge and show appreciation. 

    • During this time, it is important to acknowledge the hard work of your team during the crisis. Demonstrate to them that you are genuinely appreciative of their effort.

    • Effective leaders take a two-pronged approach, both acknowledging the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling in difficult circumstances, but also providing affirmation of their confidence in their teams, using phrases such as “We’ve got this,” or “This is tough, but I know we can handle it,” or “Let’s look for ways to use our strengths during this time.” With this support, employees are more likely to take up the challenge with a sense of purpose and focus. 

If you are unsure how to support your team in this unprecedented situation and need more support, Human Resources is available to provide that support. There are also other resources outside of Human Resources, including the Office of the Ombuds or the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs

*Note: This is a compendium of guidelines and practical advice compiled from the human resources community and adapted to our circumstances at Gallaudet.*


800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002


800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002