COVID-19 crisis – Prioritise your People Agenda

COVID-19 crisis – Prioritise your People Agenda

As companies race to adapt to the everchanging climate that COVID-19 has thrust us into, one thing is clear; disruption is our new normal. Whatever the level of disruption, we must reimagine the way we will operate our businesses in the future.


A crisis should be viewed as an opportunity to evolve, not an obstacle to overcome to return to the status quo1. This pandemic has brought the necessity of human transformation to the forefront and demonstrated that business performance and productivity cannot be dissociated from people performance, potential and emotion. Brands that are right now prioritising the wellbeing of people (even at a financial cost) will be rewarded in the long run2.

COVID-19’s forced ‘experiment’ insists that we adapt and march on; how can we weather the storm and not be engulfed by it? In order to navigate the crisis and emerge successfully, business owners and leaders should be thinking deeply about the following:

Strategic Workforce Planning

When a company proactively evaluates its current workforce capacity and capability and anticipates the future workforce it requires in order to reach its business objectives, then it is planning its workforce strategically. However, in times of crisis, strategic HR tends to take a back seat and becomes more of a theoretical notion than a reality3. Despite this, it is during a crisis that it should be put at the forefront of decision-making.

From a capability perspective, although employee development may seem low priority, the 2008 crisis taught us that consistent and focused learning and development throughout the economic downturn was crucial in ensuring employees were able to adapt to change and support the survival of the business4.

From a capacity perspective, the inevitable issue surrounding workforce right-sizing can be divided into two main questions:

i) Is it the appropriate course of action? The temptation may be to cut down on employees to reduce costs, however, this is only a short-term solution, and could potentially lead to an array of other challenges once the situation stabilizes, such as excessive demand on the existing workforce5. Instead, there are ways to potentially repurpose and redeploy the current workforce strategically.

ii) If it is the course of action, who should I retain? Deciding to let go of employees is always a difficult decision, however, should it be deemed necessary, it is imperative that a strategy is in place to identify high performing key people, and talent with high potential, allowing you to strategically decide which employees to retain.

Company Culture

Your company’s culture sets the context for everything your company does. During the 2008 crisis, the companies that didn’t pay as much attention to company culture as they did to profits created even more issues than those that did6. Leaders can often get caught up in crisis management and often fail to recognise the impact of company culture, both on current survival and on future success7. In times of crisis, successful companies are mainly characterised as having an ‘open’ culture, demonstrating a willingness and openness to change, a high level of trust and a high tolerance for uncertainty and flexibility8.

Employee Engagement

During a crisis, companies need employees that are engaged, highly driven and on board with the new direction of the company, potentially more than during times of normalcy, highlighting the importance of maintaining and increasing employee engagement. Engagement initiatives can support companies with the challenges faced, establish trust, and gain and leverage upon employees’ knowledge and commitment9. Maintaining investment in engagement initiatives during times of economic uncertainty not only serves to continue to protect your current talent and retain your key people, but also ensures that you are prepared to attract top talent that may be ready for new opportunities once the economy improves.

Embrace your People Agenda as a handrail to the future. Evaluate your workforce strategically and plan for scenarios beyond the crisis. Ensure your employees remain engaged and motivated throughout, this to ensure your employer brand and customer experience remain intact. Focus on maintaining and creating a culture of trust, communication, adaptability and collaboration. Pandemics are unsettling, but they are temporary by nature. We will come out the other end, but how we rebound when we do, depends upon the people decisions we make today.  


1 Marie-Line Germain, ‘The role of HRD in crisis situations: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina,’ Advances in Developing Human Resources, 12, no. 5 (2010), pp. 536-51.

2 Anjali Lai, ‘For businesses, decision-making during the COVID-19 crisis requires a bias toward people, not profit,’ Forbes, 19 Mar. 2020,

3 Fotios V. Mitsakis, ‘Employees’ perspectives on strategic human resource development before and after the global financial crisis: Evidence from the Greek banking sector,’ International Journal of Training and Development, 21, no. 4 (2017), pp. 285-303.

4 Joseph Fiksel, ‘Resilient by design,’ (Washington: Island Press, 2015).

5 Tit Albreht, ‘Health workforce in times of financial crisis,’ European Journal of Public Health, 21, no. 1 (2011), pp. 1-3.

6 Hala Abdulqader Sabri, ‘The role of corporate culture in maintaining organizational operations during the global financial crisis,’ Journal of Social and Development Sciences, 4, no. 3 (2013), pp. 141-46.

7 Priscilla Nelson and Ed Cohen, ‘Riding the tiger: Leading through learning in turbulent times,’ (New Jersey: American Society for Training and Development, 2010).

8 Katarzyna Szymańska and Anna Walecka, Culture openness as an element of positive potential of enterprises in a crisis situation,’ Journal of Positive Management, 6, No. 4 (2015), pp. 53-65.

9 David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, ‘Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement.   A report to government,’ (2009)

© 2023 KPMG, a Malta civil partnership and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International, a Swiss cooperative. All rights reserved.

KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”) is a Swiss entity.  Member firms of the KPMG network of independent firms are affiliated with KPMG International. KPMG International provides no client services. No member firm has any authority to obligate or bind KPMG International or any other member firm vis-à-vis third parties, nor does KPMG International have any such authority to obligate or bind any member firm.

Connect with us

Save, Curate and Share

Save what resonates, curate a library of information, and share content with your network of contacts.