How employers communicate to employees in wake of disasters
Recent hurricanes have companies thinking about how best to provide assistance, resources to employees
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.”