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An Employer’s Guide on Effective Employee Communication During a Crisis

In the social media age, news can go viral in a flash. Bad news can spread like wildfire and can damage the good reputation of a business that had been built through years of hard work and dedication by the management and staff.

For example, a photo of a foreign object on a burger circulating on Twitter can seriously damage the image of a fastfood company. A Facebook post about the poor customer service of a bank can also hurt the reputation of the firm.

Bad news will not only damage the good reputation of a company to the general public. It can also have an effect on the morale of the employees, lowering their morale and affecting their productivity in the process. This underlines the need for effective employee communication during a PR crisis.

Here are some tips to help decision makers manage a potentially crippling PR crisis, and enable employees to feel better about the company they’re part of:

1. Talk to the Employees First
As much as possible, internal communication should precede external communication during a PR crisis. This means that employees should be the first to hear from the management about anything related to the crisis. Management should deliver the news to their workers first, and not from outside sources. When employees hear negative news about their company from outside sources first, they may feel alienated and hinder the firm they’re working for in staging a successful PR crisis response and recovery.

Management should engage the rank-and-file in an honest dialogue with as many employees as possible. This should foster better understanding and support from the personnel, even for unpopular but necessary steps that the company may have to take in order to manage the crisis and ensure that the business will be shielded from the PR crisis.

2. Answer Employees’ Questions
One of the pillars of effective employee communication during a PR crisis is to tackle the employees’ questions. Business communicators should prepare the president of the company as well as other leaders of the group to answer these queries. Most of the time the communications team is tasked to anticipate, identify and provide question of the employees, and help their bosses in coming up with answers to those queries.

In cases wherein the company caused harm to an employee or his loved ones, communicating with regret and empathy are a must. The firm must also provide a clear explanation of the steps it is taking to deal with the situation and prevent it from happening again.

The answer to the questions should not only be based on opinions of the executives. It should also take into account the opinions and expectations of other stakeholders.

3. Turn Employees Into Communication Allies
Many executives forget that employees are willing to work with the management in times of crisis. Most of these employees are eager to put in the time and effort to help their company turn things around, so to speak.

A crafty communicator who is familiar with effective employee communication during a PR crisis would turn the employees of the firm as communication allies. They can be empowered to reinforce messages within the organization, and even into the community.

4. Consistency in the Messages
While employees can be turned into communication allies who can reinforce the messages of the management internally and even as act a voice of the firm in the community, there should only be one spokesperson for the company who will deliver these messages.

This is another pillar of effective employee communication—having one trained and designated employee or executive who will act as the company spokesperson. This one-voice-policy will ensure that the company will be able to send coherent messages to the public.

Moreover, the spokesperson will be able to stress important points when delivering the messages that the company would like to impart to the public including its internal audience.

5. Get Feedback
The company should work to solicit employee feedback to determine whether or not the messages have reached its intended audience, and has achieved the desired results. Feedback also enables the leadership team to track the opinions, perceptions, and expectations of employees. It may also contain valuable info and suggestions that companies may want to follow to minimize damage, and prevent future crises.

6. Getting External Help
There are times that even an internal communications team well-prepared on crisis prevention will be unable to handle well a PR crisis. If a business communicator feels that the organization needs outside help, he or she should recommend hiring qualified external consultants. A professional PR consultant can give solid inputs on how to effectively respond to a crisis and how the company can recover quickly from said predicament.

Effective employee communication during a PR crisis can spell the difference between a company quickly handling and recovering from a crisis, or one that fails to handle the problem to the point that its business is affected by it.

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