Communicating with your employees

COVID-19 Business Planning & Communications

Written by Glenn Elliott

Last published at: March 26th, 2020

The mental and physical welfare of your employees will be your number one priority.

Employees will be worrying about two things :

  • Risk of infection and complications from infection for themselves or their family, friends, relatives
  • Economic impact of the pandemic and the risk to their jobs and income.

Some employees will already be affected if their partner or family member has lost their job, had their hours and income reduced or has been hospitalised or ill. Anxiety levels will be increased from living in unusually close proximity to family members, staying in more than usual and having children at home who might normally be at school.

Anxiety levels are running high even in people who are often thought to be calm in a crisis.

Visible, effective leadership is essential to help your employees get through day by day.

  • Communicate regularly with your workforce, even if you feel you have little new news to share. Fear fills a vacuum and if your people do not hear from you then they will think the worst. Being visible at least on a weekly basis, maybe twice weekly is key.
  • Be honest, calm but direct with people. It's OK to say what you know and don't know. It is better to be clear that some facts are unknown that to pretend otherwise or gloss over areas.
  • Provide multiple mechanisms for feedback, by telephone, email or other means
  • Communicate through multiple channels if at all possible. Some people like reading, some people like watching video. Video is great at conveying emotion and giving reassurance and showing understanding. Written words are often better at conveying key details.
  • Avoid making promises that you cannot keep or saying things that you don't know.

Learning's from previous health crises shows that an absence of communication tends to cause employees to think the worst and can lead to significant mental stress and even panic.

In situations like this the response tends to polarise to apathy or panic. What we recommend is staying calm and centred - be science based, look to trusted sources such as 

Gov.uk - Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest information and advice

NHS.uk - Coronavirus (COVID-19)

WHO.int - Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak 

Key things you should think about ;

  • Be honest, transparent and empathise - employees will be alarmed and thats OK and normal.
  • Keep factual, refer to and lean on trusted sources
  • Remind people of your key priorities :
    1 - Health and Wellbeing of our employees,
    2 - Continued good service to clients,
    3 - Being a good corporate citizen and lowering opportunities for the virus to spread.

We've provided a series of communication templates that may help in you drafting your own communications. Adapt these to your own unique circumstances.