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Top 3 Lessons from Leaders: Leading in a Pandemic

Guest author: Christine Sutton, Sutton HR Consulting

Leaders in a pandemic


As organisations are looking at a return to the office for their employees following nearly 2 years of restricted measures, many are considering what the way forward looks like for them. Will they have hybrid working models or will they offer fully remote working? How will they continue to support employees working virtually and ensure they are not negatively impacted by whatever they choose to do?

Many have been hearing about ‘The Great Resignation’ with some reports suggesting that up to 40% of employees in the UK and US are considering leaving their jobs. Although the data to support this appears to be thin on the ground, organisations are under pressure to look at their work practices and what they are doing to support employees. Do we understand what engages and motivates our employees?

Research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) showed that 60% of people surveyed had either not spoken with their manager about their mental well-being or felt that they could not be honest if they did. Organisations need to ensure that they are not merely ticking a box when it comes to employee wellbeing, especially moving forward as the toll on mental health will continue to be felt for many years as a result of the pandemic.

In the course of research, I undertook with women in executive leadership positions, I had the opportunity to ask them about their experiences of leadership during the pandemic, and what they found themselves doing more of, as leaders.


These are the top three behaviours that they indicated were vital for leaders to display in times of crisis:


In times of confusion and uncertainty, we often look to our leaders for the path forward. The leaders spoke of the importance for them to be that captain steading the ship, ensuring that the messaging was consistent and that people were aware of what was expected of them. This continues to be important and always will be. From the beginning of any employment relationship, expectations need to be understood, both from employees and what is expected from leaders. As such, leaders need to be aware of their own behaviour and its’ impact. Manager’s behaviour is one of the biggest influences on an employee’s experience at work.

Those I spoke with were clear that it was important to lead by example, so being a calm, consistent person, even in the face of uncertainty in many industries is particularly important in these times.


At the same time as offering clarity, one needs to understand that there is more going on in people's lives than just their work. It is important that leaders are adaptive and sensitive to those needs.

Many spoke of how their organisations flexed regarding work schedules, allowing people the flexibility to manage their own work schedules and output. This should be an action going forward, moving away from presenteeism and focusing on the person rather than the process.


As highlighted by the EIU research, honest and open dialogue is vital. It is disappointing that a high number of respondents in that research do not feel that is available for them.

Interestingly, in my own research, leaders felt that they spoke more to their teams now than they had ever done previously. The regular team and 1-2-1 discussions online gave leaders the opportunity to listen to each employee more, and check in regarding mental wellbeing, whereas in-office meetings, would not have allowed such a focus.

Whilst many of these leadership behaviours sound like common sense, the research indicates that some leaders may be sticking their heads in the sand.

The pandemic will continue to impact all our lives in some way. Leaders and organisations need to ensure that their people are at the forefront of their strategic plan and the continued support they will need to thrive and develop. We must learn to continually adapt and pivot regarding how we now work and learn lessons we can take from this going forward.

Link to Sources:


Introduction to line manager support materials for people professionals | Support materials | CIPD

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About Christine Sutton


Christine (she/her) is an expert people professional with a wealth of experience across multiple sectors. She holds a BSc Hons in Applied Psychology, a Masters in Organisational Psychology is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD, and is currently undertaking a Professional Doctorate in Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London.

She spent several years in the financial services sector in Ireland supporting senior leadership across several jurisdictions working on local and global initiatives. Christine works with clients across the UK, Ireland and Isle of Man and has built up a strong consultancy business working with organisations to champion a people-first agenda.

Christine is accredited in several psychometric tools for use in personal, team and leadership coaching and development as well as recruitment and selection processes.

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