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Responding in the Face of Crisis: 3 Steps to Support Employees

As the number of natural disasters and other crises seem to increase, knowing how to support employees will help businesses get through situations with less disruption.

There has been no shortage of disaster headlines in the last few years, whether they are of the natural variety like inescapable floods from hurricanes, devastating wildfires, catastrophic mudslides, lethal tornadoes, or other crises such as social unrest or acts of violence. As a business, being able to contend with a broad array of situations is understandably challenging since you never know what may occur. The best way to stand you and your company in good stead is to be proactive; prepare, consult your leadership and keep your employees’ health and safety front and center.

Below are a few tips to keep in mind as you support your employees and business through a crisis:

  • Stay Nimble

    Recognize that your procedures will need to vary depending on the disaster. Quite obviously, you’ll need to respond differently to a fire than you would an earthquake, hurricane, or gunman. If there is time to prepare, think if your staff knows what to do in those cases.

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires most employers to implement an Emergency Action Plan to address specific emergency scenarios and their potential consequences. Each plan should include written procedures and resources that are accessible and have been reviewed by everyone in your company. Emergency action plans must cover specific regulatory requirements. They should include situations like evacuation procedures in the event of a fire or earthquake, sheltering protocols for hurricanes and blizzards, and lockdown strategies protecting against terrorist attacks and active shooters.

    Plans should also include IT backup strategies, medical emergencies and succession planning. Additionally, during the emergency plan drafting process, you’ll likely find other potential business vulnerabilities along the way that should be addressed as soon as possible, leaving nothing to be figured out amid a crisis.

    If, however, there is little time to prepare, being nimble is the name of the game. Remember that any preparation and response in light of a crisis is better than none.

  • As Always, Communication is Key

    Aside from safely avoiding physical danger, your company must rely on a well-functioning leadership team to address vital steps in post-crisis communication with your entire staff, prospects, clients and vendors. Communicating effectively in these situations is a way to build trust and confidence in your business recovering from the disaster. Consider the likelihood that you’ll need to get in touch with emergency responders, staff in other office locations, staff that are off-the-clock, concerned family members and possibly the media. Identify the appropriate members of your organization to disseminate emergency information or function as an on-call point of contact. Communication is a key component when managing a crisis and should occur at an early stage with frequent updates throughout in a clear, concise and honest manner.

  • Back to Business

    Once you have accounted for your people and they have survived the emergency without serious injury, the next most important aspect of crisis management is the continuity of your business. Do you have coverage for any position in your company that is adversely affected by the emergency? For example, if your company’s CFO is hospitalized with an injury, who manages the company’s finances while they're recovering? Another critical consideration is that if your office is damaged and you don’t have remote working capabilities, depending on your size and location, your company may or may not be required to compensate employees during a shutdown. Do you know what the requirement for your size and location is?

    Even if your workforce is lucky enough to avoid taking short or long-term disability or filing a workers’ compensation claim, they might still be overwhelmed with the number of catch-up tasks and hours required to get the business back on its feet.

    Be prepared to work through these challenges, accommodations and requests before it’s too late. Temporary contract employees may be necessary to help you right the ship. Additionally, keep in mind the mental health toll of such a crisis and provide resources for your workforce. Empathy in the face of an emergency will go a long way toward supporting employees.

This is merely a glimpse into some general obstacles you may have to overcome in a crisis. Remember that you need to understand your company and industry-specific needs to formulate a plan and response that adequately protects your people and your business.

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