How can we deal with a critical number of employees not showing up for work, maybe because their houses are flooded, there is a transport strike or their children fall ill in an outbreak of flu or the measles? (Do we want them to show up in these cases?)

How can we make sure employees perform at their best while at work?

How do we help them in being personally resilient to stress, both in their private and professional lives?


When thinking about the human factor in organisational resilience, the line between their professional lives and personal lives becomes blurred. An employee dealing with a personal crisis will not be available or as on-point as they usually are. Personal crises can be individual (e.g. marital problems) or collective (transport or school strikes, natural disasters) and how we respond to them will determine our organisation’s success.

First, we have to accept that there are going to be events when a large number of employees will not be able to work at all. We need to have plans in place when that happens:

  • Have alternative workforce available, for example agency staff, or
  • Cross-train other members of staff to take on more crucial roles when required. Transport for London, for example, trains members of (office) staff as “TfL ambassadors”, ready to help out at stations or bus stops when needed,
  • Identify common scenarios where staff shortages could occur (e.g. rail strikes) and planning for them to ensure staff can return to work as soon as possible (e.g. through remote working, taxis for key staff or good health cover / support with rehabilitation in case of illness),
  • Supporting the employees in their crises and finding ways to help – we have, for example, seen an HR team arranging alternative accommodation for employees fighting flooding in their village,
  • Reviewing the use of contractors, both in terms of their dependability for BAU tasks as well as their role in providing flexibility and additional support where required,
  • Establishing remote working practices as far as possible to reduce the dependency on individual locations,
  • Review insurance cover, if required,
  • Develop plans to change, scale down, or shut down operations in certain scenarios like natural disasters or transport strikes.

Second, we must plan for everyday resilience to avoid staff being unavailable in the first place and to raise the threshold of when staff shortages become a problem. A resilient workforce in general is a combination of resilient individuals and resilient working practices.

Therefore, our resilience programme should also include:

  • Preferring teamwork over individual work; a team that shares knowledge and workload is generally much more resilient than a ‘single point of failure’,
  • Fostering employee relations and support networks – there have, for example, been cases where employees took turns looking after their children in a school strike or closure,
  • Providing mental health support and prevention,
  • Stocking food / drinks for staff working long hours during an emergency or crisis,
  • Developing a quick, easy and reliable way to contact employees in an emergency,
  • Providing advice to employees on how to prepare for and deal with natural disasters,
  • Advising on personal insurance cover and other personal resilience best practices.

Planning for specific scenarios in addition to the general comments above will be crucial in ensuring business continuity. This should be done regularly and systematically, and the human factor should be considered in all such planning.

The more resilient our employees are in a personal or professional crisis, the better for our organisations. Resilient employees will have lower stress levels, higher productivity and knowing exactly what we can, can’t (and want to or don’t want to) expect from them in a crisis gives us the ability to create meaningful and realistic emergency plans, reassure employees and stakeholders and keep our organisations and our people thriving.