Advice to CEO's on employee communications

COVID-19 Coronavirus

Written by Glenn Elliott

Last published at: November 11th, 2020

During this extended, difficult situation being a visible leader, communicating with your staff is critically important. This will be easy and normal for some CEO's and harder and more alien for others. In this article, I try to give some help.


Leading your people through the crisis.

Three key things that you can do are :

  • Be visible and accessible, communicate regularly. That means at least weekly, ideally twice weekly or more.
  • Show empathy and understanding, this is frightening for all of us.
  • Be truthful and therefore earn trust. Do not make promises that you cannot keep.

Your job is to keep people calm, help them get through the outbreak in their own way and keep them informed.

Getting the tone right is important, it's a mistake to think your job is to present a sunny picture or be optimistic as that will lead you into making promises that you can't keep. You need to show there is hope and light at. the end of the tunnel, but be careful to stick to facts and things that you can control.

Some of your people will lose loved ones and some, maybe many, will lose their job or their partner will lose their job. Do not sugar this up, it is awful but true. 

Key points to accept as a leader are

  • None of us know how long this is going to take.
  • None of us actually know what the world is going to look like at the end.
  • None of us know when the economy will get anything like back to normal or even what normal will look like

Showing empathy and understanding is key.

Your staff will be worried, frightened and anxious. You cannot magic wand that away. Instead imagine this. You are standing beside them, holding their hand, feeling their fear, showing empathy and understanding, showing that you are there with them.

What you can and can't promise

  • You can't promise jobs to people, you can't promise health and you cant promise to have all the answers all the time
  • But you can promise to be truthful, honest, upfront and straight with people. You can promise to communicate regularly, listen to them, be there for them.

You can show empathy, understanding, kindness, compassion. But you will still have to make tough calls regularly as your job is to make sure that the business survives the crisis and comes out the other end as a viable employer. If you are honest and upfront with people about that, they will understand.

Think about staff who will leave you during this crisis

One of the toughest things in this situation is that some of your people will not even be your employees by the end of it. You may have furloughed people already or have that coming and you will have redundancies or layoffs. 

With your comms or HR team you might think of a way that staff who have left your organisation can still see some of your communications, maybe you even have special communications for them. You may want or need to re-hire these people in the future.

Example C-Suite Communication

Here is an example of a guest post I did on 31 March 2020 for my old company Reward Gateway that appeared on their internal blog. It has a video and text which is a good model to consider.