Communicating in Crisis: Employees

In Part Three of the series “Communicating in Crisis,” Scott Gaddis explains how important it is for EHS practitioners to be as honest and transparent as possible when communicating to employees about a crisis situation.

Unless employees are front row center as a crisis unfolds, it’s a safe bet that only versions of the truth are being shared with them by coworkers.

First and foremost, it is paramount during a crisis that the EHS practitioner and the management team be as upfront and honest as possible with employees. This does not mean the organization is admitting fault or taking the blame, but is communicating what is known as truth at the time the crisis is occurring. Unless employees were front row center as the crisis unfolded, it’s a safe bet that only versions of the truth are being shared with various fabrications of the facts crafting a new storyline as time ticks away and ripples through the workforce. 

Crisis Communication Tips

Consider the following when reaching out to employees:

  • Be upfront and truthful with information that you know. Honesty is essential to credibility. In times of crisis, one of the worst things you can do is not be honest.
  • If there is information that is sensitive or confidential or if you cannot discuss something, say it rather than leaving the workforce wondering or guessing that information is being hidden.
  • Address perceptions. The implications of a crisis are directly associated with the observations of your workforce. Dissolve as many misconceptions as possible.
  • Allow employees to complain. It is imperative to understand how people feel and why. Some types of crisis events create more uncertainty than others, and it’s doubtful they will accept communication unless you are open to receive theirs.
  • Share with the workforce how they will receive additional updates and how often updates will be conducted. This becomes more important if the crisis interrupts things like their work schedule.
  • Share with the workforce what information will be shared with the media and the public and how it will be delivered.

Lastly, treat your employees as stakeholders in your organization, because they have an interest in the organization and are impacted by the outcome of the crisis event.

Controlling Information

At the end of your crisis communication meetings, discuss the control of information regarding outlets like social media, casual conversations with friends, neighbors and especially calls from the news for comment. Controlling information is incredibly difficult, so instead of denying it can and does take place, build an understanding that it is best that we have one voice and direct the workforce to steer the people who are asking for information to the spokesperson for the organization.

To ward off probable misinformation, detail how to handle those seeking information and equip the workforce with the appropriate facts regarding the crisis event and how to best respond if they find themselves in a situation where they are being asked to share information. Employees will be asked questions, and it is the role of the management team to equip them with the right words to use in these situations. 

Other Articles in the Series “Communicating in Crisis”

Communicating in Crisis: The Role of the EHS Practitioner
Communicating in Crisis: The Role of EHS in Managing Communication
Communicating in Crisis: Emergency Response Planning, Preparation and Training
Communicating in Crisis: Government Agencies
Communicating in Crisis: Preparing the Public Information Officer

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About Scott Gaddis

Scott Gaddis leads the integration of the Intelex EHSQ Alliance in thought leadership and building partnerships with top influencers in EHS, working with professionals across the globe to deliver a platform for sharing information and collectively driving solutions that mitigate workplace loss. Scott has more than 25 years in EHS leadership experience in heavy manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and packaging. Before joining Intelex, Scott served as Vice President, EHS for Coveris High Performance Packaging, Executive Director of EHS at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Global Leader for Occupational Safety and Health at Kimberly-Clark Corporation.

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