How to Keep Employees Informed During a Crisis

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the world, many organisations are designing their crisis management plans as they go, and they’re quickly learning the importance of one key element: internal crisis communications. Employees may be the single biggest determinant in how quickly and successfully an organisation recovers from a crisis, and effective communication with them helps secure faith in leadership’s judgment and ability to lead through the crisis.

The good news is, although crises come in many forms––from security breaches to workplace violence to, yes, public health crises––the fundamentals of effective crisis communication apply across categories. Read on for a taste of Cognology’s research-backed recommendations for managing internal crisis communications.

Inform, instruct, repeat

The earliest communication during a crisis should help employees understand the situation and ensure their safety. Even when little information is available, it’s better to acknowledge the situation and state that you’re looking into it than to say nothing at all. This is also the stage to instruct, which might mean reinforcing safety protocols or introducing new operational rules and changes, for example.

Crises that originated external to the organisation, e.g. a natural disaster or the current pandemic, may already have widespread media coverage and government attention. However, don’t underestimate how much your employees count on you for trusted information. Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer reveals that people trust the CEO of their company more than the leader of their country, NGOs, or journalists to give them accurate information about the coronavirus and its progression!

Here’s another reason to keep up the messaging: repetition is required for retention. For example, in communicating health risk, a 2015 study found that people need to hear the message nine to 21 times to fully recognise the risk. Communicate regularly throughout a crisis, repeating key messages every time.

Did you know? Cognology’s Crisis Communication and Management product makes it easy to coordinate your response. Use it to design and disseminate communications, know which employees have read your messages, and more.

Support and build purpose

As a crisis progresses, employees begin to feel worn down. We all recognise that feeling in the current environment. This is the time to supplement information and instruction with psychologically supportive communication. Of primary importance is fostering internal dialogue, helping employees to feel comfortable openly discussing the crisis without fear of repercussions.

Leaders can also help employees find meaning in the crisis by providing a deeper sense of purpose. The coronavirus pandemic has created for many employees a new, unexpected sense of purpose: saving lives. Instilling purpose even benefits productivity: a sense of meaning in one’s work and the associated sense of wellbeing are said to explain up to 25% of performance. That said, you’ll need to put some extra effort into working with those who’ve always had a less-than-ideal employee-organisation relationship (EOR). Research has shown that poor pre-crisis EORs significantly contribute to negative perceptions and behaviors during a crisis.

Use Cognology’s Wellness product to check in with employees, including survey administration, question submission, and other supportive tools.

Build resilience

In the later stages of a crisis, employees are feeling ready for change and leaders are focused on business recovery. This is the time to build community, restore confidence in the business, and define goals for moving forward confidently. Employees want to know that leadership has a clear vision for how the organisation will emerge from the crisis and what needs to happen to get there. Communicate both short- and long-term goals with simplicity and repetition, just as was done in the beginning. Additionally, inviting employees to provide input on decisions can help build a sense of mutual achievement.

Set metrics for your goals and track their progress with Cognology’s Performance Management product.

Demonstrate empathy and authenticity

Given the sensitive nature of a crisis, it’s especially important to master the skills of empathy and authenticity in communicating with employees. Moments of crisis have an outsized impact on employee engagement and commitment, and perceptions of empathy only magnify the effects. In one study, a majority of surveyed employees said they believe there’s a link between empathy in an organisation and employee motivation and productivity. In fact, 78% would be willing to work longer hours for an empathetic employer!

Authenticity is defined by vulnerability, consistency, and especially transparency. Employees can sense when a leader is concealing the truth or downplaying risks. Instead of appearing overly confident or upbeat, minimising, speculating, or sugar coating, simply communicate with candour in sharing the facts while expressing confidence that the organisation will make it through the crisis.

Stay in touch

Crisis communications don’t end with the crisis. As long as recovery efforts are in place, be sure to keep employees updated on progress. The importance of sustaining employee resilience and optimism post-crisis can’t be overstated.

And at some point you’ll want to get some feedback: “Based on how the crisis affected you and your work here, how could we have communicated better?” Do you expect to like what you’ll hear? Download the Cognology Guide to Internal Crisis Communication for a deep dive into best practices at every stage of a crisis. Let us guide you in guiding your employees.

Download the Cognology Guide to Internal Crisis Communication

Download the Cognology Guide to Internal Crisis Communication for a deep dive into best practices at every stage of a crisis. Let us guide you in guiding your employees.