Whether it’s changing government regulations, a public relations nightmare or a health scare, it’s the role of HR to keep their people informed and, most importantly, safe.
In the wake of COVID-19, this is becoming increasingly top of mind for many HR professionals as a pandemic virus is dominating news headlines and can be a scary topic, especially with widespread misinformation.
While the responsibility is on individuals to take care of themselves and their families with proper health precautions, it’s critical for employers to treat situations like the Coronavirus seriously and handle them with empathy.
So what should employers focus on in a time of heightened concern? I spoke with Group HR Director, Robert Hicks, and our Head of Engagement and Internal Communications, Catrin Lewis, to get more insight and practical tips for HR leaders to adapt for their own workplace:
First of all, what’s the most important thing for HR to keep in mind when situations such as the Coronavirus hits?
Robert Hicks: One role of an employer is to stay close and connected to their people. Your people and your business are both your priority, and the steps you take in staying aware of your employees’ health, while communicating with and making your employees aware of any change in policy should support these objectives.
Employee safety and experience need to be at the very heart of communication, and that’s something you should always keep in mind, but especially when health and safety are the main focus.
What are your priorities when creating policies or work environments to ensure employee safety?
Robert: The Leadership Team is in agreement that the safety of our people and their families is the top priority. While Reward Gateway already has a flexible working policy that allows many of our employees to work remotely as needed, if employers don’t already offer flexible or remote working options I would strongly recommend that they consider work-from-home policies that help your people perform their jobs while keeping them at ease about potential risks to their health.
Other measures we or others are taking include sharing updates from the World Health Organisation on our digital signage network throughout all office locations and on our internal Instagram account to remind them of key messaging.
We’ve also positioned hand sanitiser around the office to remind people to keep their hands clean.
Robert, informing your people about crises isn’t (usually) a one-person job, especially for a company like Reward Gateway that operates in five countries. How did you formulate a plan of action?
Robert: While our employees are located in lower-risk areas, we live in a very well-connected world, so first and foremost it’s important that we all follow the factual news sources daily and keep ourselves well educated and informed of what to expect.
At Reward Gateway, we have a Pandemic Action Plan that was created to manage and ensure our employees’ safety and also so we could maintain our quality of service to our clients. Having developed this we were prepared to respond quickly to our own internal requirements.
This is an example of the blog post we created for our employees.
From there, we compiled information that was specific and relevant to our employees, such as the number of cases reported in each of the countries that we operate in, and our policies on travel and flexible working. We also shared our plans should things escalate and we had to close one or more offices.
Our next step was to create our internal Coronavirus Info hub with relevant information for our employees, including a way to give us feedback if they needed more information or had any other questions.
Getting information out is easier said than done. How can employers quickly and efficiently reach their employees, especially if they have a dispersed workforce?
Robert: Keeping employees up to date on health and safety policies, showing care and concern as well as minimising anxiety by reducing any scaremongering needs to be actioned quickly and consistently. It’s not easy, especially without the right tools and if you’re geographically-dispersed or have a large number of employees to reach.
In the current situation, I think that technology plays a crucial role. Look at your internal communication and collaboration tools that help your employees stay in touch.
These might include all-hands emails, Slack channels or other engagement and employee experience platforms that can distribute all pertinent information for your people.
As I mentioned, we were able to quickly put an internal Coronavirus information hub in place, and also worked with our Client Success Team to make templates readily available for our clients to use, with full access to their dedicated Client Success Manager (CSM) to put it in place.
Our client Wesleyan Assurance worked with their CSM Helena Davies to make their hub live in less than one day.
Cat, can you add more details on what informational hubs should contain?
Catrin Lewis: At Reward Gateway, we’re fortunate to have the use of our own widely followed employee communications tools, such as boom!, and quickly developed a company-wide post for all employees from a member of our Leadership Team (in this case, Robert), which was read by nearly half of the company in the few hours after posting.
We were also able to pull together a mini-hub of vetted information about the Coronavirus, including RSS feeds of global health information centres and the latest government advice, quicklinks to our EAP programme and to our employee wellbeing hub for more advice on how to stay healthy and mindful.
Cat, for those who aren’t used to communicating in a time of uncertainty with their employees, what advice do you have on the “do’s” and “don’ts”?
Catrin Lewis: Evidence shows that in situations like these people tend to under-react or overreact, few get the response right. During the SARS situation a few years ago, medical leaders stayed silent when there was no new information. It showed that silence creates panic. The medical response is different this time, learning from SARS, they have engaged across multiple channels to ensure that the public is well informed.
Number one on my “don’ts” - Don’t under communicate. Under communication is damaging.
Where there is silence someone will be filling the void. It is far better to be the one leading messaging.
Even if it’s as simple as - “Wash your hands, look at WHO, stay home” your people are looking to you for reassurance. Remember that.
As for the “Do’s.” … Do create a tone that’s assertive and familiar. Be factual and direct with your information. Cut out any fluff in your messaging and ensure that any communications are easy to understand. Ensure the communications are clearly authored by a leader in the business to show who’s in charge of the situation should questions arise.
No matter where you live, the Coronavirus is top of mind for many organisations and for HR especially. We’ve prepared employee communication templates for our clients, who can reach out to their Client Success Manager for more guidance, and encourage those who don’t work with us to work proactively with your teams to provide a safe environment for your people.
Not a Reward Gateway client? Download our template packet to get started on your communications strategy.
On behalf of Reward Gateway, we wish everyone good health and safety now, and every day.
Editor’s note: We want to make clear that this information is not recommendations or guidance from Reward Gateway, but examples of the templates we used to inform our own staff. It is very important that you continue to monitor the most up-to-date information from your local health service.