Reputation Management Services Group
Eric Mower + Associates Public Relations and Public Affairs
Whenever an operational crisis strikes any organization, the most important group of stakeholdersits employees and their familiesdemand to know “What’s going on?” And, of course, nowadays they will share the answer with the outside world.
When the crisis is of the magnitude of a flu pandemic, it’s even more critical for companies to keep employees fully informed and well prepared to cope, even though such an event is clearly out of any individual organization’s control. As we all discovered on September 11, 2001, major widespread crises can and do affect businesses and operations everywhere, whether directly involved or not.
Download this pandemic planner and share with your COO and HR team.
Preparation: Inexpensive and Worth It
Preparation for likely crisis-triggering events is simply wise management. In the event of a nationwide or worldwide health crisis, preparing for the worst becomes a reasonable and necessary task.
How will you stay in business or continue operating if employee absenteeism reaches 25 percent or more? If travel is suspended, suppliers are unable to deliver and revenues plummet as stricken customers become unable to purchase? If you hope to prevail in this situation, your organization must be ready to sufficiently communicate relevant responses, beginning with what it's doing to protect its own employees.
- What are we doing to make sure we can stay in business?
- Will I still have a job if the flu forces us to shut down?
- If the flu does force us to shut down, how long will we be closed?
- Will I get paid if I get the flu and have to stay home?
- Will I get paid if schools close and I have to stay home with my children?
- What will happen to my health insurance coverage if we’re shut down?
- How will I find out what’s happening around our organization and how it might affect me?
- How will I find out what I am expected to do as the situation changes?
- Which aspects of my job will change, and which will remain the same?
- Will it be possible for me to work from home using the Internet and phone?
- I don’t want to be forced to work next to someone who’s sick. What is our policy?
- What is our policy regarding people who insist on coming to work when they have the flu?
Surely there will be other questions unique to your organization. But as you can see, it is nearly impossible to answer these questions properly without thinking about them in advance.
Time to Update Your Policies?
Clearly, now is the time to carefully review attendance and sick day policies to make sure they anticipate and correspond to a mass flu crisis, and, most important, that old policies don’t conflict with new situations and messages. If existing policies require modification, the sooner you publish them, the better.
Consider whether you need a policy that enables you to protect people by preventing sick employees from coming to work. You need one if your company employs some of those “do-or-die” types that insist on being at work no matter how ill they are and how many others they might infect.
Effectively communicating your preparedness beforehand is one of the critical strategies for successful crisis management.
In the end, your management will not be judged on the fact that a flu pandemic (or any other mass disaster) struck. Instead, management will be judged on how it responded … and specifically, how well it communicated with everyone affected.
Will your management team be seen as well-prepared, thoughtful, calm and helpful?
Or will it “just wing it”, making it up as it goes along, lurching from one hasty decision after another, always reactively rather than proactively? Will it come across as caught off-guard, uncaring, out of control? Did it create panic or was it reassuring?
In situations like these, how well or how poorly a company or organization responds to internal and external audiences will affect its reputation for years to come.