5 Steps to Communicate Tough Pandemic Decisions Effectively & Compassionately

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Integral Communications Group for its first Inner Circle, a series of 30-minute, live Q&A sessions featuring thought leaders from across the Employee Engagement industry. I joined CEO, Ethan McCarty, for a lively discussion that explored the ways we can communicate hard decisions more effectively and compassionately with employees during COVID-19. Here you’ll see some of the key insights coming out of last week’s conversation. 

We are amidst some very challenging times with this pandemic. We have seen real tragedy in how this has affected the health of individuals. The impact doesn’t stop there. Economically, the pandemic is having an enormous impact on companies and organizations of all sizes. Few companies can avoid having to make hard choices about their operations.

Being mindful about how we communicate and engage with employees has never been more important.  

If your organization is stuck in the old command and control structure, where the emphasis is placed on hierarchy and executive privilege, now is the time to introduce a communications approach that prizes employee engagement and true dialogue.

Employees will remember how companies and leaders communicate (or not) with them during this crisis. 

Here are the five must-do steps in this moment: 

  1. Move beyond the five-paragraph, top-down executive email While mass email has a place in any organization, employees want more. They want to engage, they want to contribute. Especially in tough economic times, employees want to participate in a way that helps the organization grow and succeed. Employee communication teams should push to create channels and mechanisms, such as threaded discussion via Slack, Yammer or Workplace by Facebook, hosted by senior leaders to enable employees to feel as if they are contributing. Likewise, employee town halls that have moved to Zoom or BlueJeans should include a Q&A or live poll to address the issues on the minds of employees (with the extra step of addressing all questions that couldn’t be answered and sharing them widely). [And have in-person town halls again once it is safe to do so!]
  2. Prep executives for empathy Leaders need to consider, for the foreseeable future, where their employees are. They are concerned with two things: the personal health and protection of their family and their job security. Many leaders aren’t used to starting their communications by sharing a personal story or showing concern for their teams. This could be as simple as an anecdote about how they are juggling working at home with the kids, pets, etc., followed by expressing hope that everyone listening/watching is doing ok and to let their manager know if you or the company can help in any way.
  3. Embrace hard questions Employees are adults and want to be treated as such. This is not the time for corporate speak. Instead, use clear language that addresses the reality of the situation. Will there be layoffs or furloughs? Employees will expect that you are thinking about these scenarios, so be upfront with an answer such as “While no decision has been made, we are looking at all options to keep the company afloat and minimize disruption to employees. We are looking at economic stimulus and other financing possibilities, working with suppliers to review payment terms, talking with customers about their situation and needs and understanding our workforce needs.” This also is the time to remind employees of sacrifices already being made, such as reduction in executive pay, reducing expenses, delaying investments, etc.
  4. Have one source of truthSlack and Skype for Business channels are burning up every day with rumors. Employee communications teams should create a dedicated space on their company intranet, SharePoint site or another repository where a Q&A can live. This also should have a way for employees to submit their questions. Do you have a crisis management team? Let employees know that they will answer questions on a dedicated cadence. 
  5. Words matterMove away from metaphors that speak to battles, wars and being on the front line of the disease. Employees want to remain hopeful that we will return to “normal” when we are able to open up the economy again. Consider terms that speak to uniting, teaming, and innovating to prepare the organization to be in a position of strength once the economy begins to recover. 

These are just some examples of tactics employee communications teams should immediately deploy to help their organizations connect better with employees. You can watch the 30-minute discussion below or read the full transcript here .

Do you need help developing your company’s single source of truth (SSOT)? Contact us at hello@integralcomms.com for more information on what an SSOT engagement with us includes and how we can help.

John Buchholz
Consultant, Strategic and Crisis Communication
John loves the power of communications and believes that nothing engages an audience better than a great story.
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