Communicating in a crisis
During a time of crisis, like the current pandemic, in which most of the UK workforce is at home, it’s vital to communicate often and do whatever you can to put people at ease. It’s also important to remember that the situation around COVID-19 is creating high anxiety amongst many, and anxiety is fuelled by mistrust and silence, so communicating well is key. Here are seven top tips on how to best handle your employee communications during the coronavirus crisis.
1. Keep talking - When things go off course, there are those companies that suddenly go quiet, unsure what they should be telling people. This is the worst possible scenario because when there’s a communications black hole, employees will think the worst and panic. It’s vital to open-up all communications channels, being clear, honest and unambiguous. If there’s bad news, you must inform staff in calm, concise and considered language. Let them know what’s happening, how it impacts them and what the company is doing to make things better. Also provide realistic timelines. Staff will appreciate being kept informed and will value the company’s transparency.
2. Welcome feedback – Employee communications should always be two-way. Once your people have been informed of the situation, invite them to ask questions so that, where possible, they can be reassured. And keep requesting feedback, perhaps encouraging colleagues to circulate hints, tips and anecdotes on creative ways of working amid the current challenges.
3. Keep it positive - Keeping communications upbeat at a time of worry and stress is vital. There is enough doom and gloom around and so look for ways to encourage smiles, heighten engagement and increase motivation while reducing people's stress levels. Always look to highlight and recognise the positives, such as the great work people are doing within their teams and their wider communities. Calling-out an employee’s moving act of kindness can, in itself, be the inspiration needed to bring colleagues’ closer together, enhancing camaraderie and driving outstanding work.
4. Focus on social wellbeing – The most important thing you can do during a crisis, especially when employees are isolating at home, is to focus on the social wellbeing of your teams. Use email when necessary but preferably pick up the phone or video conference. Encourage the use of collaborative platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and introduce daily communications that are ‘just for fun’. Keeping people connected is absolutely vital to avoid loneliness and anguish.
5. Be personal and authentic – At times of crisis, you must demonstrate that you’re approachable and authentic in order to get the best from your teams. Seeing you sat at your kitchen table with a cat on your knee during a Zoom call, is not only reassuring, but demonstrates that 'we're all in this together'. Trying to enforce rigid and unrealistic home-working rules, will simply alienate and demotivate colleagues.
6. Show empathy with individual circumstances – It isn’t about employer PR right now, it’s about maintaining personal connections with your people and being empathetic. And so recognise and talk about the individual challenges being faced by employees, and remind people of the support networks in place, for example your employee assistance programme (EAP), hardship funds and mental health first aiders.
7. Appreciate regularly – There’s endless research which proves that staff recognition brings out the best in people - employees feel an increase in value which leads to greater drive and determination, better work relationships and stronger connections to their organisations. So recognise great efforts and achievements regularly, ideally on a daily basis, and keep recognition personal and sincere to keep people focused on what ‘great work’ looks like and help them feel appreciated.
How you communicate with staff is absolutely vital right now. Ad hoc, unclear and ambiguous communications will breed mistrust and anxiety. Staff will feel a disconnect from the organisation and disengagement will be rife. It’s also important to remember that how you behave during a crisis will have a long-lasting impact. If you show little concern for staff wellbeing and their individual circumstances right now, when the crisis is over, dejected staff will be first to leave. So be clear, be kind, be authentic and always be quick to say “thank you”. Surely you can’t afford to be any other way?
Robert is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD. HR Generalist turned European Managing Director in the SaaS world, he has particular interest in technology that enables thriving and well connected workplace cultures. Robert joined O.C. Tanner, the workplace culture experts, in 2014. Prior to this, he was the People Director for the English Premier...