As the devastating floods continue in Queensland and New South Wales, employees in remote roles are finding themselves cut off and unable to work. And according to reports, some employers are being more supportive than others.
Social media startup Linktree went the extra mile to support an employee affected by the disaster in Brisbane, giving us a case study of how to get it right.
Last week, Kaitlin Walsh, a software engineer at Linktree posted on LinkedIn about her ordeal and the response from her employer.
She described how she became stranded on a “new island”, with no power, no hot water and no air conditioning.
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“I had to throw everything out of my fridge, and I definitely couldn’t do my job,” she wrote.
Linktree offered to pay for emergency accommodation and offered Walsh paid emergency leave. The business also helped her to buy new groceries.
Speaking to SmartCompany today, Walsh says her employer’s reaction was “so positive and beyond my expectation”.
Many of her neighbours were asked by their employers to take annual leave, she says. Some were asked to travel in dangerous conditions to somewhere else where they would be able to log on to work.
Emily Moore, head of people operations at Linktree, tells SmartCompany the company didn’t have a specific natural disaster policy in place for situations like this.
However in “true Linktree style” she and the team saw a need from employees, and wanted to offer as much support as possible.
“That’s the role of a company,” Moore explains.
“To enable people to do the best work they can, and when they can’t, to support them to look after themselves.”
As the crisis continues, and flooding hits Sydney and the surrounding area, the same measures will be applied to any employees affected, she adds.
For Moore, it’s about mutual respect. People are flexible, and in extreme events like this one their situations are flexible too. So it makes sense that employers should be flexible in the way they treat them.
That mutual trust can also lead to improved company culture and employee wellbeing, which in turn can lead to better retention rates.
“We never do these things with that goal in mind,” Moore says.
“But it absolutely speaks to the nature of Linktree … that comes back to us with trust and loyalty and a really positive environment.”
What can business leaders do?
For other business and HR leaders with employees experiencing extreme weather and flooding events, Moore’s advice is to keep the individual, and their circumstances, at the centre of the discussion.
“Your people are your business,” she says.
Providing support and flexibility, to the extent that the business can, could make a considerable difference.
“You’ll get that back in productivity and loyalty in spades.”
For Walsh’s part, having experienced the crisis on the ground, her advice is to keep in mind the terrible experiences employees could be facing.
“This is a really hard thing to go through,” she says.
“A lot of the time people don’t get that unless they’re in the situation themselves.”
The stress and anxiety in her community was palpable, Walsh says. When people have potentially lost everything, added stress around work relations and pay are the very last thing they need.
That said, she also doesn’t think community support should come down to businesses. She wants to see more emergency government support, too.
“I feel very, very lucky. But at the same time, my heart breaks for my neighbours who don’t have that privilege.”