How to Communicate With Employees During Crisis

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May 26, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

During a time of crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic, people’s attention splinters from work to the all-encompassing chaos of what’s happening around them: the current news, family issues like childcare or elder care, a spouse’s job loss, their economic future, and other career threats.

In the current crisis, I feel certain my own situation is not atypical: We’ve moved my parents out of their retirement center apartment to live with us for a few months. My college-age grandson has come for a long visit since he can do his online course work from anywhere. When my sister comes to visit, we sit on the patio, dutifully social-distancing. My upcoming speeches have been canceled or postponed, pending “whenever the situation improves.” Conferences that I planned to attend have been either cancelled or moved online. Vendor emails are hitting my email inbox daily—by the dozens. Some are asking for my business because their own business is suffering. Others are expressing their “concern” only by adding another unread email to my collection.

Many of your employees are coping with similar lifestyle disruption and even long-lasting change.

So how does your organization and you in your HR role change this picture?

Communicate concern specifically

For the past two months, hundreds of organizations have bombarded their clients’ inboxes with messages that basically say, “We’re concerned and we’re here for you.” The problem: The message is general and vague. (Yay, for those who have a special offer like a discount for a limited period!) But after the first dozen or so of those “World, we’re concerned about you” emails arrive, many clients, suppliers, and employees tune out.

As an HR leader, you can rise above the noise by expressing your concern personally as you interact–– on virtual meeting platforms, by phone, by email, or in texts. When you know something about your individual employee’s situation, express your concern specifically:

  • “Are your parents still in a long-term care facility? Have there been any Covid-19 cases there?”
  • “How are you doing in your new home-schooling role?”
  • “What kind of precautions are the owners taking to keep your apartment building safe?”
  • “How’s your daughter doing with her online schooling?”
  • “Has your son decided whether to enroll for college next year or plan a gap year?” “Is your spouse still working remotely or back in the office?”

Any ONE of these questions (or related comments) communicates to your colleagues or employees concern about them personally and their specific situation. Genuine concern is always a great relationship builder and goodwill gesture.

Communicate tangible support

Sure, your employees know how to search online for information they need. But if you can offer tangible help, that’s far better than simply words of concern.  Consider the resources they may need and provide links they can use at their leisure to find specific help. For example: links to area daycare centers that may have reopened. Links to local hospitals that have capacity to treat ill family members. Hotlines for employees or their family members who might be dealing with depression. Counseling centers that are offering tele-counseling appointments. Locations for Covid-19 testing.

To address financial concerns, can you provide employees with resource sites about new government regulations? Sites detailing procedures to tap into their IRA accounts?  Links to local financial organizations that offer home equity loans or refinancing options?

Such research takes time. Can you make your employees more productive on the job by doing the research as part of your HR role and then “sharing” that information as tangible support for your team? Doing so contributes to the kind of culture that encourages loyalty. 

Communicate kudos publicly

Small wins make a big impact during hard times. Find things to celebrate with your team and make the praise public. Granted, back in the office with everyone together, those celebrations and kudos are easier. For example, a sales manager can ring a big gong when some team member closes a big deal. The pats on the back and laudatory comments follow easily.

Not necessarily so with people working from home. Consider the appropriate platform (email, online staff meeting, conference call with the team) to pass along praise publicly.

During times of crises, your concern, tangible support, and kudos create the culture that encourages loyalty and makes work both meaningful and engaging.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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