Human Resource Management During Times of Public Health Crises

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A human resources manager stands at a table, leaning forward and pointing with a pen during a meeting with four other people.When a hurricane hits the Gulf Coast or a pandemic surge across the country, how do companies help protect their employees and stay afloat? Recent challenges have made this question all too real for businesses across the U.S. Human resource management plays a key role in response efforts to these and similar challenges.

In the health care industry, human resource managers may combat work disruptions caused by crises. They may accomplish this by keeping employees well informed and collaborating with other health care leaders to adjust workflows, redeploy talent, and train staff to meet new or growing needs.

They also use continuity plans that outline how health care organizations will respond to, and recover from, unforeseen disruptions. 

What Is Human Resource Management and How Is It Helpful During Public Health Crises?

Human resource management affects a health care facility’s ability to deliver effective services. By overseeing key administrative functions such as employee relations, payroll, and recruitment, human resource managers support a health care facility’s key asset: its workforce.

The goal of human resource management is to empower and guide people to achieve their best performance. This requires hiring talent that fits into an organization’s culture. It also involves keeping employees engaged and helping them work more productively and efficiently.

Human resource professionals play an important organizational role, especially during public health crises. Despite the significant disruptions public health crises can cause to health care facilities, the organization still needs to deliver quality care. Ensuring health care facilities remain operational during these crises requires forethought, strategic planning, and hard work.

To answer the questions “What is human resource management and how is it helpful during public health crises?” it’s useful to examine key organizational concepts and the human resource management role in each.

Human Resources Management and Human Capital

Human capital refers to the value of an employee’s skills and experience. This can include an employee’s education, intelligence, and loyalty. Though health care facilities cannot quantify such things on a balance sheet, they are clear assets.

Health care facilities invest in the education and health of their employees to build human capital. This can boost worker productivity and improve an organization’s overall effectiveness and profitability.

Many responsibilities fundamental to human resource management help build human capital. For example, hiring and recruitment, professional development, and workforce planning can all boost the skill and knowledge level of a workforce.

Public health crises can have a huge impact on workforce planning and create a demand for new training. Human resource management plays a key role in helping health care facilities respond to these and other shifts in operations.

For example, in response to disrupted workflows, human resource management can form teams that help synchronize employees’ projects and reduce workflow issues. This might include organizing check-ins to see how employees are holding up or regularly monitoring employees’ health.

Emergencies might also require dispatching skills and applying knowledge in new ways. Human resource management may need to reorganize schedules and responsibilities to make sure employees are properly deployed. For example, overloaded hospitals may assign some nurses telehealth responsibilities to manage patients who do not require hospitalization. They may assign others to units that are designated to deal with the public health crisis at hand.

Human Resource Management and Corporate Culture

Each health care organization has its own established culture. Executive leadership styles and the accumulation of employees’ personality traits can all contribute to this culture.

Corporate culture can greatly affect a health care organization’s ability to succeed in these key areas.

  • Attracting talent
  • Building a positive company image
  • Fostering a productive work environment

Human resource departments play a central role in shaping corporate culture. Responsibilities such as onboarding employees, handling staff issues including recruitment and retention, and mediating disputes lend themselves to improving morale.

If human resource managers work to build transparency and fairness in their management of employees, they can positively affect a health care organization’s culture. This, in turn, can help the organization keep and engage employees.

Maintaining a positive culture is especially important when health care facilities face extreme stress. During public health crises, human resources management may focus on developing communication and outreach programs that keep employees engaged and maintain morale.

Human Resources Management and Benefits Packages

Benefits packages can make a big difference in the lives of employees. Human resource management helps determine the practices that drive employee compensation and other rewards beyond salaries that recognize employee performance.

During a public health crisis, employees may need to rely on their benefits more than usual. For example, they may need assistance in understanding their insurance benefits if they become ill, or they may need to unexpectedly draw money from their retirement plans. Human resource professionals help employees navigate such details.

Several items factor into the quality of a benefits package

Health Insurance

Many employers are legally required to offer health insurance. Good health insurance programs usually offer several plan options. Those options should meet the varying needs of employees, offering affordable plans with low premiums so everyone can participate.

Retirement Savings Plans

Retirement savings plans allow employees to contribute pre-taxed money to retirement savings accounts. Employers administer these plans and can match contributions as a tax deduction. 

Vacation Time

Paid leave or vacation time enables employees to receive needed time off without an economic burden. Standard vacation times are two weeks long, but competitive benefits packages often offer more.

Human Resource Management and Legal Compliance

Human resource management ensures that health care organizations comply with the laws and regulations that govern their relationships with employees. Not following these laws can generate fines and damage an organization’s reputation. Legal compliance can center around the following elements. 

Fair Labor Standards Act

This deals with minimum wage requirements and the specifics regarding rights to overtime pay for some workers. 

Federal Civil Rights Laws

These laws prevent employers from using race, gender, or other protected factors when hiring or firing employees.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA gives employees the right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave so they can attend to health issues of their own or of family members.

In addition to ensuring health care organizations comply with these laws, human resource management also ensures compliance with a web of regulations related to compensation and benefits programs. For example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has more than 24 rules dealing with employer-sponsored health benefits which human resource management must account for.

During times of public health crises, legal requirements concerning hiring health care personnel may temporarily shift to account for emergency needs. Human resource professionals must stay abreast of such changes so they can expedite hiring when possible.

What Do Human Resource Managers Do During a Public Health Crisis?

Human resource professionals coordinate a health care facility’s workforce. This holds true during times of normal operations and crises. However, the coordination of employees will shift somewhat during times of emergency.

Human Resource Management Responsibilities

What do human resource managers do to ensure health care facilities can continue delivering care despite the interruptions caused by crises? To start off, they define staffing requirements. Health care facilities must know how many staff are needed at individual positions. This involves assessing various parameters. In their role, human resource professionals can determine who is needed where. Some factors they consider include the following.

  • Occupancy rates
  • Skill levels required
  • Available technology

A public health crisis can create a surge in patients, and this can change staffing requirements. A highly contagious disease, for example, may require additional staff for tasks that would normally not be considered essential. Human resource managers must also factor in safety issues when determining staffing requirements. To limit disease transmission or protect employees in vulnerable states of health, human resource professionals may need to make additional adjustments.

After defining staffing requirements, human resource professionals recruit personnel both in and outside of their organizations to fill positions. This first requires creating accurate job profiles. With a comprehensive description of the skills required and the position itself, human resource professionals can source appropriate candidates.

During a public health crisis, maintaining staffing levels can pose a significant challenge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises human resource professionals to perform the following.

  • Determine the minimum staff required to ensure safe working environments and safe patient care
  • Communicate with local health care coalitions and public health partners to help find additional staff such as retired health care workers, students, and volunteers

In addition to these baseline requirements, the CDC advocates the following strategies for human resource professionals.

  • Rotate health care personnel to positions that support patient care
  • Try to address the reasons that interfere with health care employment, such as transportation to and from work
  • Encourage health care personal to postpone vacation time except in cases of mental health concern

Human resource management must also make sure staff have the qualifications and licensing to perform their assigned work. During times of public health crises, human resource managers must pay attention to state-specific emergency waivers. They must also consider changes to licensure requirements which may give them more flexibility in hiring decisions. 

Public Health Crisis Human Resource Management Strategies

Public health crises can affect the role of human resource managers. Such times of uncertainty may require the adoption of certain crisis management strategies to ensure the safety of health care staff.

Crisis management in human resource management entails several components. 

Human Resource Management and Crisis Preparedness Plans

Before a public health crisis hits, human resource management can assess what supplies and resources their health care facility may need. For example, hospitals across the nation have suffered shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Human resource professionals can also anticipate the emotional and communication support health care personnel may require during a public health crisis. 

Human Resource Management and Crisis Management Teams

This team can develop crisis-related procedures and contingency plans. It can also develop ways to address the human issues that employees may endure during a public health crisis, such as a lack of childcare. 

Human Resource Management and Public Health Crisis Help Centers

A help center can provide critical information to health care personnel about safety measures and available resources. Having a platform where people can get the latest news helps calm employees and ease fears. 

Human Resource Management and Public Health Crisis Recovery Plans

After a public health crisis, personnel may feel both exhausted and demoralized. Human resource managers can help employees recover their motivation and reestablish a state of calm. By applying steps that address such issues as burnout and personal well-being, recovery plans can work toward rehabilitating and reinvigorating staff.

What Are the Functions of Human Resource Management During Times of Crisis?

Beyond their regular responsibilities, human resource professionals take on many additional tasks during times of crisis. 

Implementing Sanitation and Safety Policies

Some ways in which human resource managers create safe working environments during times of crisis include the following.

  • Creating policies that ensure hazardous areas and materials are labeled
  • Establishing clear rules about the qualifications to enter hazardous areas
  • Delivering health and safety training that mitigates disease transmission

Enabling Employees to Work Remotely

In cases where remote work is an option, human resource managers find ways to facilitate work-from-home arrangements during a public health crisis. In addition to offering remote working arrangements, human resource managers support employees on an ongoing basis.

For example, they create guides that direct employees in everything from setting up their virtual workspace to managing their time. They also give tips about successful ways to conduct online meetings and communicate regularly when working remotely.

Providing Safety and Mental Health Resources for Staff

Because of the nature of their work, health care personnel often need extra support for safety and mental health issues. Human resource management can help by making safety and mental health sources available to staff. Some useful tactics are listed here.

  • Repeatedly communicating with employees about the available services of benefit providers such as employee assistance programs and health insurance plans
  • Encouraging personnel to seek help
  • Sharing information about telehealth and online crisis counseling services, financial aid opportunities, childcare resources, and food assistance programs

The Importance of Human Resource Management During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to health care organizations and highlighted the importance of human resource management. As organizations rethink how to effectively deliver services and nurture talent during these extraordinary times, human resource management can help lead the discussions.

Those discussions involve strategizing ways to manage COVID-19’s impact on the workplace, the workforce, and the very nature of health care work.

Human resource management’s position allows it to facilitate communication and collaboration across a health care organization. As such, human resource professionals can coordinate dialogues about adapting organizational goals to the new demands created by COVID-19.

Successfully managing a crisis requires placing the right talent in the right places. Human resource managers must strategically redeploy talent across health care organizations. They must also help employees reskill to meet new needs.

Additionally, because of human resource management’s role in shaping corporate culture, it must address the changing work environment. With some health care personnel working remotely for the first time and others completing longer in-person shifts, human resource professionals must intentionally build a supportive tone. Demonstrating flexibility and empathy can go a long way as health care personnel struggle to manage often overwhelming work situations created by COVID-19.

Building camaraderie during troubled times helps people endure and rise to new challenges. Human resource managers can cultivate goodwill and fellowship by creating mentorship programs and teams that check-in with one another and offer encouragement. They can also conduct brief employee surveys to get a pulse on how people are doing and determine areas where they may need additional support.

While administering employment and benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, human resource managers can implement plans that give health care personnel increased flexibility in addressing changes to the following:

  • Work status from part time to full time
  • Retirement plans
  • Commission-based plans

In general, human resource management must listen with sensitivity and act with efficiency to help employees adapt to the stresses COVID-19 places on a health care organization.  

An Indispensable Component of Healthcare

Human resource management matters to the success of any health care organization. During times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, these professionals serve an even more indispensable role.

Whether adjusting schedules and workflows, providing guidance and support to employees who are concerned about their health insurance, or finding ways to foster camaraderie among those feeling overburdened, human resource professionals play a pivotal role in ensuring the success and safety of their organizations.

Inspired by the opportunity to support health care personnel as they face unprecedented challenges? Explore Ohio University’s online Master of Health Administration program. Learn how it prepares graduates to expertly address the challenges faced by health care organizations during routine times and times of crises.


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