Photo of an employer learning about strategies for effective communication in a crisis.

10 strategies for effective employee communication in a crisis

Long before COVID-19, the Society for Human Resources Management observed that, in a crisis, “communicating quickly, often, and well with internal stakeholders” is as important—if not more so—than external messaging. The empty workplaces and scattered teams of this pandemic make effective, consistent, and reassuring employee communication ever more crucial.

If your business doesn’t include this expertise, you may want to hire a specialist freelancer or consultant to help guide you on communication strategies. We’ve compiled 10 ideas to get you started.

1. Employees should hear regularly from leadership.

Hold monthly conference calls or online town halls where you (and members of your management team, if you have them) can address employee questions and concerns. A steady stream of reassuring emails, prerecorded videos (nothing elaborate—use your phone or laptop), and other messages can help bridge the distance.

2. Be transparent and clear in your communications.

The unknown can be frustrating for employees. A recent Qualtrics survey found the limbo of furlough was more of a drain on workers’ mental health than the clean break of a layoff. Even small, practical considerations of managing crisis—such as vacation planning—demand transparency and clarity in employee communications. Employees appreciate when management admits they don’t have all the answers or are unsure about the future. You can’t tell your employees not to worry about their jobs one month and then trigger layoffs the next.

3. Provide easy (and anonymous) avenues for employee feedback.

You can keep it as simple as a free online survey tool. Monitor and maintain control over the forum to avoid chaos or abusive language. It’s even better if employees can “like” others’ comments and help elevate popular concerns.

4. Leaders and internal communications must then respond to employee feedback.

Good feedback can improve your workplace and eliminate your blind spots. But it eventually will dry up if you don’t act on employees’ concerns. If you can’t get to all the questions during a staff meeting, encourage employees to reach out to their direct supervisors—and empower supervisors to address reasonable concerns.

5. Speaking of supervisors, rely on them to provide more constant communication and reinforce key messages.

The business owner can’t provide all the necessary employee communication even among a staff of dozens. Closely monitor feedback specifically from managers to help ensure they have the support, resources, and confidence to lead their teams through a crisis and adjust as necessary. They may need to make allowances for a single parent struggling with childcare, or another employee whose anxiety and depression have been exacerbated by the crisis.

6. Provide a single source of truth.

Even if your company doesn’t have its own intranet site as a universal digital hub, you can still offer a common forum. Think of something as simple as a low-tech cork bulletin board (if they’re in the office); a collaboration platform like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Facebook Workplace; or a weekly email that employees can rely on for the latest updates and milestones.

7. Encourage employees to connect and communicate with each other.

A lot of informal self-care takes place when employees share how they’re coping with a quarantine, or how they balance child or elder care while working from home. It also can be a morale boost to organize a virtual coffeetime or group game. Whichever forum is right for your business, encourage employees to use it to stay in touch with each other.

8. Share other helpful resources for employees.

Share resources for how to help handle working from home, well-being, and mental health. Examples: news sources such as Inc. Magazine, social platforms like LinkedIn, and organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

9. Model stable crisis response and good citizenship for your employees.

Two things to consider here. Your employees may compare your crisis response and support with your peers and competitors. At the same time, how your business offers outreach to the broader community in a crisis may serve as a cue for how they help their own neighbors. For example, Principal® this year launched The Giving Chain as a community relief effort. Get out ahead of employee expectations and connect with fellow business owners in your community to offer coordinated support.

10. Empathize with disruptions in employees’ lives and extend thanks to their partners and families.

Whether your employees are essential workers who’ve faced greater risks on the job, or they’re just struggling to adapt to the work-from-home lifestyle, the small but meaningful kindness you show can make a difference in how they cope through crisis and transition.

What’s next?

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Vendors listed are not affiliated with any company of the Principal Financial Group®.

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment advice or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.

Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Co., a member of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.