COVID-19: Effective employee communication is key to managing epidemic
- Staff Writer: Sizwe Dlamini
As the global spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to dominate both news and personal discussions, many employers are taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus within organisations.
A critical part of this is making sure that staff are equipped with accurate information, according to Gys Kappers, chief executive of Wyzetalk – a digital employee engagement company – who said on Tuesday that in times like these the number one priority for any organisation should be to ensure the health and well-being of its people.
“Communicating clearly and regularly with employees is a key part of helping to mitigate Coronavirus-related risks within large organisations. This includes communicating openly around how to help minimise the spread of the virus, as well as clearly laying out the company’s contingency plans and what it is doing to guarantee the safety of its people,” said Kappers.
Kappers said this could be tricky for larger, dispersed businesses – especially those operating in sectors with limited access to “traditional” forms of office communication such as email. “Many large organisations have staff members that operate outside of the traditional office structure. Retail staff or employees who are deployed in hard-to-reach locations are often left out of the corporate communication loop.
“Making sure that all employees have access to accurate information builds trust, minimises anxiety and ensures that employees can make informed decisions – especially during a crisis,” he said.
Kappers shares his top tips for organisations needing to manage the Coronavirus conversation with employees:
Don’t wait: “Firstly, it is crucial to assure employees that the company is acutely aware of the severity of the issue and is monitoring the situation. You don’t need to have all the answers, plans and procedures yet – but let them know where you are at and what the next steps are,” says Kappers.
“CEOs need to communicate regularly as updates happen and ensure employees know that the company is planning ahead. This includes clear steps around what the company’s plan is if the virus spreads to their area, and what employees can expect if the situation gets worse. Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) should also get an open channel of communication going by allowing employees to ask important questions to business leaders.”
Do your research: Kappers highlights how important it is to update employees with accurate information – especially when explaining the public health component. “Make sure you share factual information with employees around how to stop the spread of the virus in the office, at home and in their communities. This includes reminding employees to wash their hands frequently, to use tissues when they cough or sneeze, avoid direct contact with people, to go to the doctor if they experience any flu symptoms and get tested if they have recently travelled.
The medium is key to the message: You can spend ages crafting factual, transparent communique but if these aren’t going to reach your employees it’s a wasted effort. “Understand your employee base and how they access information. It’s imperative to communicate with employees via the means that best suits their unique situation.
Also keep in mind that companies should be prepared to answer all employee questions around some of the other trends developing from the spread of the Coronavirus. These may include market instability, manufacturing lock-downs, supply chain disruptions, shipping delays, and the combined effect it may have on a company’s financial performance and future sustainability.
“The right communication plan can be invaluable in avoiding any undue alarm, protecting employees and ensuring productivity continues as far as possible,” concludes Kappers.