India has got the chills. The swine flu pandemic which was distant to our shores is now a national crisis.
While the government is taking measures to prevent the spread, there is inertia among most organizations in India in getting the message out to employees.
Some companies have been proactive – sending out mailers, placing posters, inviting medical professionals to address their staff, requesting sick employees to undergo tests and sanitizing the workplace. Clients have begun seeking answers on how they can continue to get their business running without delays.
The usual question arises: who owns sharing these updates? Is it the human resources team, is it the facilities or office team, the marketing or PR team, is it the leadership or is it the project team?
While this debate carries on, employees get perturbed at the lack of information or fume at the apathy in protecting their interests. This leads to discontentment and resentment.
Most employees are seeking information at 6 levels:
a) What is the current scenario globally?
b) How badly is India impacted?
c) What is the industry/organization doing to stem the spread?
d) What can I tell my clients?
e) What is their immediate leadership doing to support the efforts?
f) Finally, what can they do to help out?
It is also important to educate your managers on how to address queries from their teams. In one case, the manager told his sick employee ‘not to come near him’ causing the team to get extremely upset at the high handed response. In another incident, a manager forced his employee to travel despite fears of getting affected.
In both these scenarios, sensitivity may have helped the employee and the team involved to feel valued as individuals.
The manager could have requested the individual to seek immediate medical support and personally checked on the situation. In the second case, a face to face session on how travel and the spread of virus are not interrelated may help in alleviating fears.
Instead of resolving the ownership issue, it is imperative that communicators do their bit to get the message out soon. Based on the 6 levels of information needs, there are numerous credible resources such as the World Health Organization website or the Government of India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to refer to get basic inputs.
Work with your leadership to understand the point of view and steps to inform clients. Understand what the industry is doing to support the measures. Look up NASSCOM’s update.
Prepare a short key messages draft for all your stakeholders to communicate consistently. Follow-up on the impact and reactions.
Lead the way communicators!