Coronavirus – Putting your people first during a public health scare

By Martyn Rosney

This morning, news emerged that staff at the Irish offices of Indeed have been told to work from home as there are legitimate concerns that family members of a staff member in Singapore may have been exposed to coronavirus. Indeed, which employs over 1,000 here in Ireland, like many companies in Ireland has presences in multiple markets and the precaution arose as a result of a recent visit by some of its employees in Singapore. The company is taking the precaution of advising staff to work from home as the health and well-being of employees is their primary concern. Indeed has to be applauded for putting the safety of its staff first and taking the brave decision to communicate openly and honestly with employees knowing that it may have a knock-on effect on the company’s operations and profitability.

No longer contained to China, coronavirus is spreading globally and across the world organisations of all sizes are struggling to get to grips with the implications of this health scare. While every business will be planning or have plans in place to protect their employees from contracting the virus it is also very important for them to have plans in place on communicating to their people in a way that helps minimise their worries and fears.

Listen

Listen to the concerns, fears and critiques coming from your people. Understand what your team know about the illness and how it may affect the company. Find ways to better understand how the various sub-groups in your company across divisions, sites and geographies are communicating with each other on the issue. If possible, try to sense-check the likely perspective of your wider stakeholder group before issuing a wider directive like working from home or suspending operations temporarily. Make sure your people know that you value their perspective and use this information to refine your communication efforts and ensure that it is consistent but nuanced where needed.

Be Honest

It’s vital to be open with staff and to keep the messages simple and factual to avoid any unnecessary worry and to correct any misinformation that is circulating. Like all issues and crises situations, a laser like focus on the truth will help you to manage the situation as effectively as possible. Being open and honest coupled with showing genuine empathy and a dedication to solving the issue in a competent manner should assuage most stakeholders.  Organisations that manage to communicate in this manner are more likely to maintain and even build trust during a crisis.

Stick to your values

In our experience it is our clients that have the strongest company culture that navigate the difficulties presented by a sudden issue or crisis best. The approach to how you interact with various stakeholders should be shaped around the company’s values. If you genuinely believe that your company is one that puts people over profit, then your response to coronavirus should be to protect your people first and foremost. In doing so, all organisations will need to ensure consistent and timely communications to ensure all their employees are kept up to speed and feel safer.

Like any issue, knowing how your employees think and feel and how information gets to them and how they amplify it is vital. For business leaders, the spread of coronavirus is yet another issue that needs to be prepared for, but as the old saying goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and taking steps to prepare now may prove invaluable.

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