3 key considerations for communicating with your employees during a pandemic
A pre-planned communication strategy is an essential component of your pandemic plan. In addition to considering external stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and the media, it is also important to plan what, how, and when to communicate with your employees. Here is some advice from BOMA Canada’s 2017 Pandemic Planning Guide to assist your pandemic planning committee in developing a pandemic communication strategy.
- Say what?
What should you communicate to your employees? Here are a few ideas to get you started. Remember to firmly anchor content to public health authority advice. Frequently check the Public Health Agency of Canada’s pandemic information, as well as your local public health department’s guidance to ensure your content is consistent and up-to-date.
- Accurate information about what is known about the pandemic virus
- How employees and their families can prepare for expected pandemic challenges
- Revisions to your company’s sick leave policy, including criteria for return to work following an absence due to the pandemic virus.
- Vacation and leave policies – have these changed in a pandemic?
- Flexible work policies, e.g. telecommuting, flex hours, etc., to minimize the spread of the virus
- Employee resources, including EAP information, health hotlines, web pages, intranet information, etc.
- Because communication is a two-way process, you may also wish to enable your employees to communicate directly with management to facilitate monitoring and addressing employee concerns. Provide a mechanism for employee feedback and questions, e.g. set up a hotline (with a way to respond in a timely manner), an intranet portal for staff, etc.
- How to communicate
- Make sure your pandemic communication strategy includes ways to let your employees know of changes to business operations as the pandemic unfolds, with an explanation about how these changes will affect them. Will you use phone hotlines, social media, a dedicated intranet page, or other mechanisms? Post changes and updates quickly and consistently.
- Have you provided ways for employees with sensory disabilities to obtain information? For example, how will you communicate with employees with limited or no vision? And how will employees whose first language is not English/French receive your messaging?
- Craft your messages sensitively. If the pandemic is severe, some employees may lose family members or friends to the illness. Provide ways for your staff to access counselling and support.
- Remember that best-practice crisis communication is accurate, honest, credible, consistent, appropriate, regular and relevant.
- When to communicate
Effective communication is also timely. “Timely” can mean at regularly scheduled intervals, or in relation to the stage of the crisis: i.e., pre-pandemic, at the beginning of the pandemic, during the pandemic, and post-pandemic. Discuss with your pandemic planning committee how to make sure your pandemic communication is timely.
For more information about pandemic planning, check out BOMA Canada’s 2017 Pandemic Planning Guide.
Susan Bazak specializes in emergency management for private and public-sector clients to build a prepared workforce and disaster resilient organizations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org