How em­ploy­ers com­mu­ni­cate to em­ploy­ees in wake of dis­as­ters

Re­cent hur­ri­canes have com­pa­nies think­ing about how best to pro­vide as­sis­tance, re­sources to em­ploy­ees

Employee Benefit News - - CONTENTS - BY AMANDA EISEN­BERG

The re­cent hur­ri­canes have com­pa­nies think­ing about how best to pro­vide ben­e­fits and re­sources to work­ers.

The his­toric weather events of sum­mer 2017 have many em­ploy­ers think­ing about how to best com­mu­ni­cate ben­e­fits and other as­sis­tance to em­ploy­ees af­fected by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

In­dus­try ex­perts say it’s im­por­tant for em­ploy­ers to be in con­tact with em­ploy­ees be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter such events. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions should ad­dress the sta­tus of com­pany head­quar­ters and projects, as well as the ben­e­fits and re­sources that are avail­able to work­ers. Repet­i­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion is es­sen­tial for af­fected em­ploy­ees.

“The most im­por­tant thing to com­mu­ni­cate is what the em­ploy­ers are do­ing for the em­ploy­ees and the com­mu­nity,” says LuAnn Heinen, vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Busi­ness Group on Health.

Em­ploy­ers also have to be flex­i­ble in times of cri­sis, she says. Em­ploy­ees need to know if they are ex­pected to come into the work­place, and if they can’t, whether they can work re­motely. Many will be deal­ing with fam­ily is­sues. Schools are likely to be closed, and rel­a­tives might have been re­lo­cated from nurs­ing homes or hos­pi­tals to shel­ters. Em­ploy­ees might need ac­cess to child­care or el­der­care, and com­pa­nies should be in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion to re­lay those ben­e­fits, Heinen says.

An­other vi­tal re­source for work­ers in times of cri­sis is an em­ployee as­sis­tance pro­gram. Not only can em­ploy­ees use an EAP dur­ing a storm and in its af­ter­math, but EAP providers also can sup­ply re­sources that teach em­ploy­ers how to com­mu­ni­cate in a sup­port­ive man­ner, says Rachel Schacht, se­nior an­a­lyst at the Na­tional Busi­ness Group on Health.

“Some peo­ple will be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing stress and PTSD,” she says. “There may be a need for em­ploy­ers to take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to things.”

ComPsych, the world’s largest em­ployee as­sis­tance provider, has a 24-hour call cen­ter to help em­ploy­ees nav­i­gate claims and find ad­di­tional re­sources, such as men­tal health coun­selors, le­gal as­sis­tance and el­der­care ser­vices. Prior to Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, which brought his­toric flood­ing to Texas in Au­gust, ComPsych dis­trib­uted a dis­as­ter plan to its clients to help keep re­lief ef­forts or­ga­nized and stream­lined.

“It re­lieves a lot of anx­i­ety, re­duces a lot of re­ac­tionary re­sponse,” ComPsych CEO Richard Chaifetz said of the dis­as­ter plan. “It gives the em­ploy­ees the sense that man­age­ment is on top of the sit­u­a­tion.”

Sim­i­larly, in hur­ri­cane-prone ar­eas like Mi­ami, em­ploy­ers rely on a pre­pared­ness pro­gram to keep em­ploy­ees in the know and fo­cused on the con­tin­u­a­tion of busi­ness.

“We an­tic­i­pate it. It’s part of ev­ery­day life down here,” says Ge­orge Boué, a SHRM mem­ber and vice pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources at Stiles Cor­po­ra­tion, a Fort Laud­erdale-based real es­tate agency. “It’s eas­ier for us to think about what we can do.”

Boué notes that the tough­est part about a hur­ri­cane pre­pared­ness plan is com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­forts, which can be stymied by a lack of elec­tric­ity or cell ser­vice.

“Most of these com­pa­nies have the abil­ity to con­nect with their as­so­ciates via mo­bile phone,” he says. “If the as­so­ciates are able to get onto the com­pany web­site, [em­ploy­ers] can also post on their web­site.”

Still, em­ploy­ers have to be quick on their feet, re­al­iz­ing that a storm could im­pact many as­pects of their job.

Paid time off might be used in the af­ter­math of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, and em­ploy­ers have a va­ri­ety of op­tions to give their em­ploy­ees the time they need to take care of their fam­i­lies or homes, Heinen says.

Em­ploy­ers can ad­vance em­ploy­ees’ sick days or va­ca­tion, but Boué notes that em­ploy­ers need to be un­der­stand­ing and as gen­er­ous as pos­si­ble.

“They need flex­i­bil­ity; they need un­der­stand­ing,” he says. “Their lives have been up­rooted.”

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