Human Resources Responsibilities in Times of Public & Company Crises

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A human resources professional leads a group meeting of four new employees.Human resource managers play a crucial role in coordinating business operations and managing the workforce of an organization. Their responsibilities include overseeing employee recruitment, training, onboarding, salary negotiations for new hires, and beyond. Many may not anticipate, however, that human resources responsibilities include leading businesses through public and internal crises.

In these unique situations, human resource managers play a vital role in helping companies navigate significant risks and execute strategies for future success.

The Role of Human Resource Management

“Human resources leaders, in partnership with senior leadership, are the architects of organizational culture,” says Tammy Reynolds, executive-in-residence teaching for Ohio University’s Online Master of Business Administration program.

Typically, human resource managers are responsible for coordinating and maintaining the talent-related administrative functions of a business. They are in charge of the recruiting and hiring process, sourcing the best new talent, creating procedures for onboarding, and assuming other tasks that involve an organization’s human capital. These professionals also handle remuneration and employee benefits programs, ensuring staff members have up-to-date information about their compensation plans.

As the link that connects an organization’s executives and employees, human resource managers often join company leaders in creating strategic plans and consulting on workplace disputes and issues, such as equal opportunity and sexual harassment cases.

Company culture refers to the common values, ethics, and behaviors that are shared by managers and employees, and contribute to an overall work environment. One company might have a casual and collaborative company culture with a relaxed hierarchy of roles, for example, while another company might have a more formal and structured company culture. Human resource managers can help facilitate company culture by building training and onboarding programs that promote specific expectations and goals for the workplace.

Human resource managers must also be ready to adapt the company culture to address current social and cultural issues. “I can’t think of any societal issue that we have faced over the past many months that hasn’t influenced the way senior leaders and HR professionals think about how they reinvent their organizational culture,” explains Tammy Reynolds. “Employee well-being is being discussed across companies that previously viewed well-being as a soft topic and now see it as essential for the retention of their talent. We can expect workplaces to adapt to these societal changes, or fail.”

With all these responsibilities, it’s evident that human resource managers contribute greatly to the growth and stability of a company and its workplace.

The Responsibilities of Human Resources During a Public Crisis

Beyond managing employee recruitment and day-to-day productivity, human resources responsibilities include maintaining operational efficiency during crises, such as natural disasters and disease outbreaks.

“The difficult public crises offer key opportunities for human resources managers to continue to ethically and responsibly build their trust with employees,” according to Dr. Amy Taylor-Bianco, program director for Ohio University’s Online Master of Science in Management program. “Just treatment of each employee builds a culture of trust by making employees feel valued, protected, and respected.”

Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for human resource managers. They’ve been tasked, for example, with building new policies for employees who are suddenly working from home. This involves making sure staff have access to remote work technologies and platforms, and navigating any changes in staffing and scheduling. With the economy in flux, human resource managers must also guide employees through adjustments in their compensation, benefits packages, and retirement plans.

Human resources responsibilities during times of crisis may also involve creating new health and hygiene procedures for the workplace, and sharing safety and wellness information with staff — even those who are working from home. In addition, human resource managers may develop emergency procedures for protecting employees who are affected by the crisis, such as staff members who become ill during a pandemic or injured in a natural disaster.

Human Resources Responsibilities During Internal Strife

Human resource managers are also responsible for helping companies navigate various types of internal crises and transitions, such as mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing.

In these situations, managers must provide transparency and open communication, keeping employees properly informed about any internal changes. They are also responsible for developing training and transitioning programs for new employees or those who are changing roles. Human resource managers can help companies smoothly work through crises, as well as minimize harmful rumors and fears that people might have about the future of their jobs and the company.

During an acquisition, for example, employees may be concerned about being let go, moving into a new position or office space, or working under a different company. The human resource manager must prevent potential conflict and streamline processes by meeting with employees to set expectations, gathering feedback about people’s concerns, and building training programs for new and combined roles under the acquisition.

Leadership Skills During Times of Crisis

Human resource managers can utilize leadership skills to help guide workforces through difficult situations in a trustworthy, reassuring manner. As professionals in leadership positions, human resource managers must also possess the confidence and competence to manage teams of employees through onboarding, training, and productivity processes.

In addition to leadership, the following are essential skills for human resource managers, especially during times of crisis.

  • Communication skills. Human resource managers must be able to effectively strategize with senior leadership, and clearly and convincingly instruct employees with regard to company values and procedures.
  • Organizational skills. As overseers of various administrative functions, professionals in this role should be able to manage several programs and tasks simultaneously, while giving each department and team the attention it needs.
  • Decision-making skills. Human resource managers must be able to quickly and clearly make decisions that can affect the future of the organization and its employees.

Become a Business Leader

Ohio University’s Online Graduate Business Certificates are designed to help students strengthen their leadership skills and take their business careers to the next level. Choose from a suite of eight certificates in areas such as Human Resources Management, Business Analytics, and Entrepreneurship — customizing your education for a competitive advantage in your chosen field.

“Our Human Resources Management certificate courses are designed for active learning with a strong emphasis on the application of real-world scenarios,” notes Tim Reynolds, executive-in-residence for Ohio University’s College of Business. “Students should expect to participate in modules that they can apply later that week at work.”

Learn more about how our Online Graduate Business Certificates can help you pursue your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

10 Tips for Employee Retention Strategies
Benefits of Graduate Certificates: 5 Ways to Boost Your Skills and Value
How a Graduate Certificate Benefits Your Professional Career


Forbes, “15 Effective Ways HR Can Help Create a Sustainable Company Culture”
Governing, “The Role of Human Resources in a Natural Disaster”
Human Resource Executive, “Coronavirus: HR’s Role”
Human Resource Executive, “Steve Boese: Navigating Mergers, Acquisitions, and Coronavirus”
Inc., Human Resource Management
The Balance Careers, “What Is Company Culture?”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Human Resources Managers