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Employee communication during the COVID-19 pandemic

With the World Health Organization declaring the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic, it is important for organizations to calm and assure a likely uneasy workforce. A sound employee communications strategy plays an integral role in supporting the everyday needs of workers, especially in times of crisis.

  • The #1 expectation from employees is that their employers communicate effectively.

  • Only 42% of employees say their company does a good job of communicating overall.


Alight recommends organizations consider six key guidelines to help them effectively communicate to employees about COVID-19:

Be open and honest

Only 46% of workers think the communication they receive is open and honest. Yet, employees are 12x more likely to be engaged when it is.

Our research shows that even under normal circumstances, workers feel under-informed by their employers. In volatile and uncertain times such as this, it’s critical for organizations to be open and honest in their communications. Transparency is key when a situation is evolving and clearly explaining how you’ve prepared for and are addressing such an event will help put your people at ease – and avoid the need for damage control later.

 

Stay ahead and provide frequent updates

61% of workers say they receive the right amount of information about what is happening in their organization.

With the 24-hour news cycle and digital overload, employees are inundated by constant and possibly contradictory information. The organization’s voice must be included in that narrative, so it’s important to stay on top of breaking news and keep employees apprised of any changes or impacts to the company, their work or their benefits. Communicating early and often will cut down on misinformation and ensure employees don’t feel in the dark.

 

Meet workers where they are

Regular email is still the preferred communication channel of 33% of workers, with another 24% saying they prefer email with an urgent indicator or subject line.

Preparing people for a potential crisis can be a challenge, but communicating best practices and information shouldn’t be. To maximize the impact, communicate with workers on their channel of preference (mobile, email, etc.). Taking an omni-channel approach will ensure employees are seeing communications, no matter their location or current work situation.

 

Empower managers to engage

Only 50% of managers agree that they have the tools and resources necessary to have tough conversations.

During a crisis, facilitating real, honest and supportive conversations with every employee can be difficult. Organizations can make it easier by equipping managers at every level with the messaging and resources they need. Prepared and well-versed managers can better handle tough conversations and make employees feel supported and heard throughout the process.

 

Recognize people’s special circumstances

55% of people say taking care of their children is a high or moderate priority, and 36% say taking care of someone with impairments is.

When it comes to communication, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it. Give thought to the communications needs of all workers, including front-line, hourly or expat employees. Also consider the risk for exposure extends well beyond physical offices – e.g., those using public transportation for their daily commute may have unique needs. Finally, don’t forget that people are more than just employees. Parents and caretakers, for example, may need additional guidance around time off and wellbeing resources, and additional communications can go a long way in ensuring they feel supported.
 

Show compassion

55% of workers think they are trusted with valuable and relevant information that they need or want.

Tensions run high during a crisis but keeping a level-head and maintaining a human element in communications will help organizations in the long run. Remember - the goal of crisis communications is to calm nerves, share valuable and relevant information and provide resources that empower employees to make informed decisions about their health and safety.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, employers should monitor and adjust their plans as necessary to keep pace with employee and business needs. Lean on vendor partners for support – many will be able to offer valuable content and resources that can be leveraged to help communicate with employees. Additional guidance on how to address concerns surrounding COVID-19 can be found on the WHO website.


All data sourced from the 2019 Workforce Mindset Study

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