How to communicate with your employees during the COVID-19 crisis

How business leaders should interact with their employees during this period of uncertainty is a big question mark for many. Other than the Ice Storm of 1998, nothing has kept so many employees in Montreal away from work for such a long period of time and on such a massive scale.

The general dilemma that employers and employees are facing now is that the period of the current crisis is undetermined. The ice storm had the guarantee that spring would take it all away. That was the worst-case scenario then. The worst scenario of COVID-19 may have been avoided due to the drastic measures taken by the government, but the “end in sight” does not factor in to the current crisis like it did in the Ice Storm. Everyone is governed by the step by step process during this time without knowing where that process will take them. Moreover, it is unclear what the process itself will morph into as the situation unfolds.

Employers and employees face the strain of the unknown which can cause break downs in their professional relationships. Without any end game in sight, it begs the question, how do employers maintain their relationships with their employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

According to Strategic Communications and Crisis Management professor at McGill University, Luis Diaz, transparency is key. “Employers need to communicate with transparency and remind their employees that this is a fluid situation and be clear that they are also part of this step by step process.” Diaz told The Suburban. “Promises are not going to be good. Employers need to let people know that they will advise them of changes as soon as they become aware of them.” he explained.

Diaz suggests that employers stay in regular contact with their staff at whatever capacity they can. “Consistency is important at whatever capacity the company can offer dynamics and will help relieve anxiety and maintain trust.” Diaz said. “Depending on the company size or dynamics, this could be a daily call or a weekly e-mail update, as long as the contact is consistent, the employees will feel a sense of allegiance to their employer.” he explained. “During times of crisis, people experience a higher attention rate to information, so it is important to keep the information clear.” Diaz suggests. “Do not go into useless details!” he warns employers.

What we learn from Diaz is that the line of communication between employers and employees must stay open, clear and trustworthy. It is imperative that business owners, managers and leaders establish the line of communication and remain consistent with the form of communication that they choose to offer.

Here are some additional tips gathered by The Suburban from local business owners:

-Create an online message board — Offer daily or consistent briefs

-Offer additional training suggestions that people can work on from home

-Create or encourage team building activities online – This can be an e-mail thread, where co-workers can discuss non-work-related topics with a conversation starter like a short comedy video or even just a photo — like a virtual lunchroom where they can continue to socialize

-Be the first to let your employees know what their options are and what the possibilities are where they are concerned

-DO NOT make promises, just communicate clearly and honestly

-Express empathy towards employees who are struggling at any level during the period of uncertainty

-Keep your leader hat on, but an appropriate show of humanity is not a regression and can go a long way

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