Responding to Adversity

Posted on July 31, 2020 | By Pamela Landwirth

If you’ve read my book, my blog, or my social media posts, you’ve read about an idea that I believe in whole-heartedly: the synergy of engagement, passion, and purpose in creating a work environment that is beneficial not only to the individuals that comprise an organization, but also to the organization as a whole. However, no matter how engaged, passionate, and filled with purpose your employees are, some events can test even the strongest of corporate cultures. As you may know, the financial and logistical effects of COVID-19 forced Give Kids The World – where I serve as President and CEO – to make the heart-wrenching decision to extend our closure period and lay off eighty-five percent of our staff. It was one of – if not the most – difficult professional decisions I’ve ever had to make.

I often discuss taking care of hearts while taking care of business. It’s much easier to meet this ideal when the waters are smooth, but in the face of adversity is when those principles matter the most. As this situation unfolded, it was clear that now was the time to take care of the hearts that had taken such good care of our business. What follows here is a glimpse of how our organization attempted to do just that.

Tools and Communication. Once we knew restrictions would be put in place and our employees wouldn’t be able to work at the office, we instituted a comprehensive response to the unfolding situation. First, we identified and equipped the employees that could work from home with the tools to be successful.

Secondly, even though reliable information was slow to come, we made sure to keep open lines of communication with our staff by sending out weekly updates. These updates included the facts that we had, how those realities affected our status, and information regarding staff benefits. Fortunately, we were able to maintain all staff salaries for sixteen weeks, even though the vast majority were not able to work remotely.

Our efforts seemed to pay off, as our Staff Member Well-Being and Business Resilience Survey results showed:

  • 95% agree and/or strongly agree that senior leaders are prioritizing my health and safety, as well as my family’s health and safety.
  • 88% agree and/or strongly agree that senior leaders are transparent and open in their communications about the current crisis.
  • 95% agree and/or strongly agree that senior leaders are responding effectively to the current crisis.

Support. Because of the nature of the Village and the culture we have worked so hard to cultivate, Give Kids The World is very much a home away from home for our employees and volunteers. Losing a job is never easy, but losing this job – under these circumstances – hit much harder. Once we realized that the worst was inevitable and the layoffs were announced, we shifted our purpose to taking care of our family.

Each employee who was let go received a care package, a personal note from me, and my cell phone number to use if they needed any support. For the two weeks between the announcement and their last day, we personally spoke with our team members and encouraged them to keep thinking of the Village as their home. When the day came for each department to come back to the Village to retrieve their personal belongings, we tried to make it as easy as possible. We provided a safe way for them to take time to say their goodbyes not only to the people they had worked with, but the place where they had worked. The Village is not a typical workplace, so a carousel ride or two was in order.

Moving Forward. These attempted comforts and supports were made from the heart, but, regardless, 171 people had just found themselves without a job. We knew we had to do everything we could to help them move toward a successful future. One of the ways we accomplished this was to hold a career planning and resume writing workshop. We also invited them to come to the Village to use the computers, printers, and copiers to prepare for their job search. Most importantly, we reached out to our community partners to let them know we had several exceptional employees who were looking for a job. We wanted to do anything we could do to help connect them to the resources that would help them land on their feet.

What has happened at the Village and in many other companies across the country is devastating. The pillars of engagement, passion, and purpose aren’t going to pay the bills for the millions of people who have lost their jobs. However, even in the face of these unrivaled challenges, I do believe those concepts and the values that ground them can make a profound difference in how each employee (and the company they work for) responds to adversity.


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