Columbine. The World Trade Center. The Dark Knight Rises.
There was a time where these words held positive – if not benign – meaning to the average American but now, one cannot help but reflect on these names and associate them with grief, disgust, remorse and sadness. While we cannot change the course of history, nor can we predict the actions of a single human being or group. What we can do, as HR professionals and Business Owners is prepare a response to emergencies, tragedies and disasters that are thorough and show that we are on the front lines of relevance and care.
Consider the following DO’S:
Extend your condolence. The most important thing you can do right away is show sympathy in a way that is both genuine and transparent. Connecting with your employees is important because you never know how a tragedy impacts your staff. Consider taking time to respond but don’t let your response take more than 24 hours. It may appear to lack genuine care or that it’s too late – especially in the age of social media and instant news.
Explain your position. In addition to your condolence, it’s important to reaffirm your corporate values. While I strongly discourage you to refrain from political soapboxing and ridicule – it will be helpful if you can affirm the principles of your organization that show you are on the forefront of encouraging positive values in your office or community. Does your company emphasis open communication? Trust? Accountability? Care for one another? If so, take this time to help people reconnect with your values and why they are proud to be a stakeholder in your organization.
Provide resources to connect with help both internally and externally. Did you know that there are resources that your company can utilize to help employees cope with tragedy? Employee Assistance Programs are employer-paid life counseling services that come free for the employees and offer confidentiality and positive solutions. Community groups and Non-Profit Organizations specifically cater to education on various tragedies and can often provide over the phone counseling or in-office education programs. Employers can also suggest the use of PTO to allow employees time to refocus and clear their mind of thoughts that might prevent them from being “fully present” while at work.
Plan ahead. The reality is that while no one can predict the future, it is possible to prepare for it. Consider having your management team discuss – ahead of time – what it will and will not do to help employees cope in light of a tragic incident. Questions to ask will include:
- What benefits do we offer to our employees to assist with crisis management?
- Under what circumstances will we shut down our business to allow employees to sort through tragic situations – and for how long?
- What leave policy will we set in place in response to tragic situations?
- Who will be responsible for communicating our corporate message to staff? To customers? To shareholders? To the community?
- What support will we offer to those effected by a given tragedy? Funds? Clothing drives? Food drives? Volunteer time?
Consider this list of DON’TS:
- Don’t use be late. A response that comes more than 48 hours from the situation can be seen as too late – unless there is a valid reason for why the communication did not happen.
- Don’t soapbox. Tragedy is not the time to preach political or religious reform. It is a time to console, affirm, and encourage. Politics can polarize so be careful not to alienate your audience using these two touchy subjects.
- Don’t make promises that your organization cannot keep. No one is asking you to fix the world’s ill’s with your corporate communication. Be mindful of what you promise to employees and shareholders because you will be obligated to uphold your claims or be deemed to lack credibility if you don’t.
- Don’t be ill-informed. In order to prepare your response, do your due diligence in understanding the events as they are reported and validated as truth.
Navigating a corporate response to tragedy can be one that can either favorably or negatively impact employee, customer and shareholder sentiment about your organization. Consider seeking outside support from a trusted source on how to draft a disaster response message and action plan. It is a must in the world we live in today.
Resources that can assist in your corporate emergency preparedness and response: