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Natural disasters, pandemics and other disruptive events create a host of problems for company leaders. Everything from structural damage to lost productivity and employee assistance must be handled simultaneously.
Although it may be tempting to crack the whip and get back to business as usual as quickly as possible, it’s best to avoid rushing stressed, traumatized employees back to work. They probably won’t be able to focus on their jobs until they have a handle on their situation, and they deserve the time and support it takes to get there.
Remember what the “H” stands for in HR
There’s a reason we call it “human” resources. At the end of the day, every organization is about people: those who work with us and those we serve. So, when a disaster or crisis of any kind strikes, the human element should take priority over business and industry. It really is that simple.
Compassion and clear communication can foster long-lasting results, such as increased camaraderie among employees and loyalty that transcends your organization. Doing what’s right for those in need will resonate not only with your entire workforce but also your customers.
Here are a few tips to help you find the right balance between what the company needs and what individuals need in order to heal.
1. Communicate frequently through multiple channels
During and after a disaster, employees need to know what’s going on at the office and what’s expected of them. When helping employees deal with change, it’s important to restore some sense of normalcy.
Be the voice of reason and source of comfort your employees need during this critical time, using a straightforward tone that conveys confidence and security. You don’t want to make false promises, but your messaging should be supportive and hopeful rather than despondent. Check in regularly with your employees and encourage them to do the same.
2. Be specific about next steps
Once the initial impact and shock of a devastating event have passed, everyone’s attention will begin to turn toward recovery efforts. As this phase gets underway, it’s especially important to keep your workforce informed about what’s next.
Don’t assume your team knows what you expect, especially for unprecedented events. Your communication with them should spell out everything in very literal terms. Depending on the crisis and how your company fared, you may need to provide updates to employees once or twice a day. To build a sense of normalcy, try to send your messages on a regular schedule, for example, every morning at 7 a.m. and every evening at 5 p.m.
3. Facilitate recovery assistance
There’s no way to sugar-coat this: Employees recovering from a crisis or natural disaster are going to need support. Your company may have special funds earmarked for employee assistance. But even if it doesn’t, you can still make this difficult time a little easier for your employees by putting them in contact with organizations that can help them. Include contact information (links to websites, phone numbers and physical addresses) for federal and local agencies, churches and community centers.
4. Coordinate volunteer efforts
Your employees who fared well through the crisis will naturally want to help their coworkers and the surrounding community. Giving employees the means to support their coworkers and community helps reduce the stress everyone is feeling, whether directly or indirectly impacted. It also creates a source of pride and purpose when employees are able to work with their company to support fellow employees and the community.
Make it easy for employees and customers to give to local relief efforts by adding a donation button to your website. You can also provide links to donation sites in your email messages or signature.
Never underestimate the power of even the simplest act of kindness.
Bottom line: It doesn’t matter how you help. Every contribution, large or small, is a step closer to regrowth and prosperity for you, your employees, your customers and the community (or communities) you serve.
5. Take care of customers
You may be working to serve your customers with only a skeleton crew, a result of displaced or disoriented employees. Communicating with customers is key, so that they understand what’s going on and how you’re dealing with it. They’ll likely be reasonable and understand that you’re not able to provide your normal level of service. However, let them know what you’re doing to handle at least their most critical needs, and then make sure to deliver on that promise.
6. Encourage gracious receiving
Disasters and crises often turn the tables on hard-chargers and caregivers. People who are used to helping others may suddenly find themselves in need of significant help. But being on the receiving end of things is often much harder for these natural-born givers. Remind staff who need extra support that being a gracious recipient will not only help them work through their own trauma, but also gives volunteers and donors a sense of purpose and fulfillment. When you encourage both gracious receiving and responsive support, you help build long-lasting teams that work well together.
7. Address survivor’s guilt
It’s not unusual for people who weren’t directly impacted by a disaster or crisis to experience what’s known as survivor’s guilt. When we see others suffering on such a large scale, we often feel guilty. Why were we spared when coworkers, friends and family are going through something so tragic?
Remind your team that guilt doesn’t help anyone. To shake it off, try to put your energy and emotion into helping others. Look at service as your way of showing gratitude for your good fortune, while helping a wonderful cause.
8. Deal with the distraction of trauma
As employees return to work, you may hear comments like, “I feel so useless. I should be out there helping people instead of just sitting here doing this.” Encourage them to talk about what they’ve already done for their neighborhood or local non-profits. Acknowledge their good work and remind them of how much they’ve already helped.
You might also explain to them that coming back to work revives the local economy and helps the entire region get back on its feet. It also enables them to serve customers and help keep the company (and, thus, their own livelihood) strong.
Remember, recovery is a marathon, not a sprint
Disaster or crisis recovery takes weeks, months, and sometimes even years, which can make it overwhelming when you’re trying to get things back on track. That’s why it’s important to pace yourself, your employees and your company.
Remember that everyone has been changed as a result of this event. Many may be traumatized, having spent days or weeks dealing with their loss and the losses of those around them. There’s no rulebook or set timeline for getting back to normal, or even a “new normal.”
Once things are back to normal, make sure you review and update your company’s disaster recovery plan while the event is still fresh on your mind. What worked and didn’t work during the recent disaster or crisis? Request feedback from your leadership team and key employees, and then provide the updated plan to everyone in your organization. This will help ensure you’re ready for the next disruptive event, which hopefully will be a very long time away.
For more tips on how to manage in the wake of a crisis, download our free magazine, The Insperity guide to leadership and management.