Communicating with employees during coronavirus emergency

Communication has a critical role in helping to alleviate the heightened levels of anxiety people will be feeling.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 13 people globally suffer from anxiety already – so, today, I’m sure that’s far greater!

Now is the time for communications. Communications is at the heart of employee experience during this crisis.


Communication with employees during crisis_COVID-19

From my experience so far helping clients, who range from leading financial services to FMCG organisations, I’ve got 5 top tips; some of which might seem obvious, but it’s worth taking a few moments to reflect and remind ourselves what good crisis comms looks like.


1. All leaders must be communicators

The first task for leaders after employee safety is to reduce anxiety levels. And that means communicating more, and more often.

They need to be calm and offer reassuring authority, while showing compassion and vulnerability. Even leaders will be feeling anxious and uncertain; and won’t have all the answers. By exposing their own vulnerability, comes trust.

So, sometimes, it’s about doing something as simple as having senior leaders host an informal call with teams affected, showing that they care about the wellbeing of their colleagues above all else.

Anyone with ‘communications roles’ will need to help them get their messages through all the channels available.


2. Clear & actionable messaging matters

In times of crisis, clear and actionable messaging is imperative.

The most successful organisations have provided clear comms for what staff should do. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers: no one does. But, be clear what your people need to do now – actionable and tangible next steps.

Ultimately, be transparent, provide context, acknowledge what you don’t know and change the way you normally communicate – so drop the formalities, it’ll be the least of your concerns!

Humanise your language – we’re all in this together – people are receptive to that type of language. Business formal language less appropriate.

And most of all, say ‘thank you’ especially to those staff who can’t WFH and must travel or continue to risk their own health. We’ve seen this with NHS workers.


3. How much is too much information?

We need to figure out balance; sending out more information than you would normally in a crisis is completely acceptable and expected.

Having said that, to avoid staff feeling overwhelmed with information, establish timescales for giving staff regular updates and avoid lengthy statements.

Simplify information with easy to digest content such as some simple FAQs, myth busters, and jargon busters to address the top concerns: ideal for those who may skim-read through.

Sometimes it may be that you have a daily status update that states ‘no change’, but it will reassure staff that the situation is being continuously monitored and the information they’re reading is current…and with that, help people still feel connected and mentally get through their days without feeling anxious.

It’s important to remember too, if we don’t get information, we simply become more anxious and we fill in the gaps with our own assumptions which is how misinformation circulates.


4. To WFH or not to WFH

For those who can implement a WFH policy, the key is to keep in constant touch with these staff and help them feel connected and part of your company community and culture.

But not every organisation can implement a WFH policy. If we think about front-line staff at supermarket outlets or those who work in factories, for these staff, help them know you’re there for them with their safety at forefront.

Whether at home or not, communicate regularly. Don’t let people develop their own assumptions. As this isn’t going anywhere soon, seek help and delegate responsibilities; people desperately want to feel involved.


5. Provide a source of truth

People want information from trusted sources.

The responsibility of communications in this crisis is to be that ‘aggregator’, pulling information from within your organisation working closely with HR, IT & legal and outside the organisation such as from WHO, NHS and government.

And, think about channels people get their trusted information. Not everyone in an organisation will default to a communications channel when they have fears, concerns, or questions in this high-stress situation.

Instead, many employees will want to speak with someone they trust such as their line managers who will often their first port of call.

So, it’s vital that line managers are equipped with information on how to respond when staff approach them. This can be as simple as activating a cascade and telling them who to ask or where to find answers.


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