Workplace Communication is Essential for All Employees During a Crisis

workplace communication covid-19

The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, and things are changing so rapidly it’s difficult to keep up. For company and HR leaders, our focus is going to be on employee communication, whether we have essential workers or a portion of our workforce on furlough. Your company is looking to you to provide guidance and information, and how you handle communication during a crisis impacts your employer brand so heavily that a misstep can cause lasting damage. 

In addition to needing to communicate with employees who are suddenly working remotely, or safety information for your essential workers, it is also necessary to maintain constant communication with furloughed employees. Large companies across the U.S., like Honda, Disney and Best Buy have furloughed tens of thousands of employees, as have companies across the restaurant, entertainment, retail, education industries, along with state and local and government agencies. 

If you’re not communicating, you’re losing the trust of your employees and contributing to panic during a crisis. We need to be communicating with employees during this uncertain time whether you’re going through layoffs, furloughs, or you are continuing business as usual. 

 

Essential Employee Communication During a Crisis Especially When Furloughed 

 

While we have to keep an eye on the bottom line, communicating with employees should be the first thing on your list all day, every day. We talked a bit about communication in our comprehensive Furlough Guide. Here, we’ll go into more detail about best practices for communicating with your employees during a crisis, especially those employees who have been furloughed or may be laid off.

Update employee contact information. Things have been happening so rapidly, it’s likely that you haven’t had time to update employees’ personal contact information in your HRIS. If you are in furlough, or preparing to do so, now is the time to reach out to them. If you have to furlough employees, they will not have access to their work emails because you deactivated them (the same goes for layoffs). Ask your managers to gather the information from their teams and update those contacts in your database so you can include their email addresses on employee communication.

If you feel like you’re over-communicating, you’re doing it right. This crisis didn’t come with a playbook, so your employees are going to be looking to you for guidance. If you’re sending updates to your employee network and extended (furloughed) employees on projections for work changes, when you expect to return to normal work functions, what your state and local authorities recommend, and any executive level decisions multiple times a day, you cannot “over communicate” right now. Your current active workforce needs to know what you’re doing to keep them safe and your remote or furloughed employees need to feel included and informed.

Create a resource list for support. This can be disseminated via email from HR to an all company address and should include your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hotline or a local resource where your employees can get support for things like health resources, childcare, or coping with emotional or financial stress. In the light of a pandemic, this might be which stores still have toilet paper in stock and time off to go shop for necessities should they find themselves working from home, in quarantine, or sick. These are small but meaningful ways to support your active and dispersed teams. 

Extend resources for employees who were furloughed or laid off. You have a talent newsletter, your (now) former employees are on it, what resources can you share that HR didn’t during their exit interview? If your layoffs happened before March 18, 2020, your former employees may not know that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was passed in response to the spread of COVID-19. The act brings relief to states in need of funds to pay unemployment insurance to claimants, and in some states, increases the amount of unemployment payments. 

Your current and recent employees should know what you know. While you can’t bring everyone into the decision room, you can implement a rapid communication plan to reach out to your current and recent workforce with information on company decisions as soon as you are made aware of them. For example, if your company leaders expect to lay off a portion of employees who were initially furloughed, don’t wait to let them know. If a furloughed employee thinks he or she has a job waiting for them after a furlough, they will be less inclined to prepare for a job search. Yes, they’re also getting unemployment, but they do need to know if they need to work on their resume and how soon that might happen.

Give out contact information. Whether this is for HR or company leaders, your current and recent employees should be given the opportunity to ask questions, clarify information, and offer feedback. Communication transparency means that you encourage a dialogue rather than just disseminating information. The last thing we want our workforce to feel right now is helpless. A feedback loop is necessary to ensure employees’ voices are heard.

 

Communication Transparency Is Key Moving Forward Post-COVID-19 

 

Transparency doesn’t just protect your employer brand during a crisis; it’s also the right thing to do. If your communication puts employees first, this is what they will remember at the end of a furlough (or in a year, three years, five years). This crisis is a major life event, and we’re all going to remember how our employers responded when it happened.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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