Our Human Response to Crisis…

The global pandemic became a crisis unlike anything we have ever experienced in our lifetimes. Indeed, we do not know the full impact on our society and businesses for many years to come. But after eighteen months, it is possible to learn some valuable lessons about the nature of human responses to crisis, and to harness these reflections for future success. It is difficult to judge how individuals will react in a crisis, as our initial response may be very different to what we expect, particularly during extended periods of uncertainty. With this in mind, St James would like to share some lessons learnt.

We may not have sung from the windows like the Italians, but we did make life as joyous as possible during the C-19 global crisis and national lockdowns. First and foremost, we never forgot our national health services by genuinely clapping them along every Thursday evening. Despite the media reporting “panic buying”, we did not engage in panic or make any rash decisions. Instead, we promptly worked with clients to respond to the demands of a serious pandemic and learnt a lot about human relations along the way. 

Lesson One: Collaboration is Key

As the MD of a people business, I was keen to create a collaborative community and provide flexible support to clients and colleagues alike, despite the misleading and sometimes contradictory public messages. We quickly transitioned to remote working and reduced team contact. We diversified our services by sourcing face masks, hand sanitiser, sneeze screens, signage, and whatever was required at different client buildings. Sandrine quickly mastered Zoom and I mobilised people through hosting town halls and a vast number of online events. Despite the difficulties, we continued to deliver business value during this unprecedented crisis. On reflection, it’s good to talk, listen, and support each other.

Lesson Two: Leveraging Strong Leadership & Financial Support

As team leaders, we were conscious of individual reactions to the crisis and offering the appropriate support when needed, particularly concerning our colleague’s financial stability. Redundancies and zero-hours contracts were not an option for us. All our managers who were furloughed were topped up to their full salary and their T&Cs remained in place. Indeed, we do not advocate zero-hours culture, as we are dealing with people, not commodities! We stood firm in not taking on any debt or government loans, but we did leverage flexibility and good will amongst our business partners. On reflection, we worked closely with our clients to ensure the financial stability of our colleagues, as well as providing flexible service. 

Lesson Three: Be Mindful of Mental Health & Support Services

Once the financial stability was in place, it was time to concentrate on the complexities of keeping the team motivated during extended periods of lockdown. As already emphasised, it is “good to talk” on a regular basis and appreciate that everyone is unique, so has different pressure points. Despite all the setbacks, we actively encouraged a sense of humour and fun atmosphere! In practical terms, we introduced the team to a 24/7 GP helpline offering virtual appointments; pharmacy pick up and deliveries; and access to a confidential employee assistance programme. On reflection, we mobilised local resources and raised awareness of mental wellbeing, diversity and inclusion. 

Lesson Four: St James Has Got Talent!

Motivated people will take the initiative, organise themselves, and find the resources they need to showcase their talent. Even at the lowest point of lockdown, we actively engaged in a variety of colleague led events. Some social and educational illustrations included:  Zumba with Antonella; Keep Fit with Dagmara; Cooking with Mark, Cryptic Quizzes with Martin and others; Philosophy with Ursula; and much more.

On reflection, these events gave us a sense of “being in it together” and escaping the reality of non-human contact with colleagues and friends. It also reminded me that for the most part, we are autonomous and self-organising, whilst realising individual talent from within St James. Any comments on this article are most welcome. 

Julie Gordon
Managing Director
St James Facilities Services Ltd