The 2019-Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization. As of 24 February 2020, there have been almost 80,000 confirmed cases and 2,500 deaths from the virus around the world.
There are already enormous economic implications of the virus being felt around the world, with travel restrictions, quarantine, fear, and panic causing disruption to many businesses in areas that have been affected.
In China alone, around 780 million people are quarantined and companies have had to halt the production of many goods exported to the rest of the world. In other countries where there has been an outbreak of the virus, all sizes of businesses are being affected as people become afraid to leave their homes or visit certain areas.
According to the World Economic Forum, “panic spreads faster than pandemics” with misinformation on social media platforms posing a challenge for authorities, as incorrect information can reach more people than advice from experts.
For internal communicators, this highlights the need for open, honest and ongoing communication with your employees via workplace health promotion programs about the spread of the virus and its impact on your business operations as the world grapples with the pandemic.
Why workplace health promotion programs are important for business
Most adults spend around a third of their lives at work. The World Health Organization has recognized that workplaces have a significant role to play in promoting health and wellbeing to employees.
In general, workplace health promotion helps to foster a healthy workplace where employees work in a supportive environment with favorable social conditions. This, in turn, helps them build on their own personal skills and resilience, as well as building the organization’s resilience.
Workplace health promotion programs make good business sense. It helps to improve levels of employee engagement and the associated benefits that come with that including increased productivity, lower levels of absenteeism and presenteeism, more motivated staff with higher morale and lower levels of staff turnover.
Coronavirus is no exception to these principals of workplace health promotion. The added benefit of communicating regularly with employees about the virus and its impacts is that you can also stop misinformation from spreading and control the message internally.
If your organization is lucky enough to not be affected by the Coronavirus in any way currently, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels when it comes to work health promotion. Preparedness is the key: leaving it until its too late is always a recipe for disaster.
The impacts of the Coronavirus are likely to continue for many more months to come, and we may not even have seen the worst of it yet. If your business isn’t already prepared for the effects of the virus to be felt on business continuity and the health and welfare of your employees, it’s time to take stock and put proactive strategies in place to mitigate any ongoing workplace health management issues.
Also remember that employees will not just be concerned about their own health and wellbeing and that of their colleagues, they’ll also be worried about the business’ ongoing viability and whether they will still have a job once the virus situation is over. You need to be communicating about business continuity and the plans and protocols you have in place to protect your economic and financial interests.
When there is a health crisis, your organization needs an effective internal communication system to quickly and easily keep your employees updated with the correct information. DeskAlerts is a cost-effective internal communications software solution that Human Resources and Internal Communications departments can rely on to send messages quickly to employees using a variety of tools and channels. This includes alert notifications, desktop tickers, digital signage, corporate wallpapers, corporate screensavers and more. Provide your employees with the information you need them to know.
Workplace health promotion programs should:
- Involve a clear, easy to follow strategy stating your goals and objectives.
- Be tailored to respond to a range of potential scenarios where the virus could affect your workplace.
- Include clear key messages that you want staff to understand.
- Contain answers to frequently asked questions.
- Be distributed to staff in a timely manner.
- Be distributed to staff using a variety of internal communication strategies to be effective.
5 tips for workplace health promotion programs for internal communicators
Coronavirus is not the first, and sadly won’t be the last, health risk that businesses must contend with. There have been many over the years. Communication is key to successfully managing these issues.
1. Give clear instructions about stopping the spread of infection
Even if none of your employees have been affected by the illness yet, being vigilant and practicing good health and hygiene is key. Make signage that outlines steps employees should follow around symptoms such as sneezing and coughing, reminders to wash hands and use hand sanitizer, wear masks if appropriate and so on. These should be placed in bathrooms, kitchens, break rooms and anywhere else they will be seen by employees.
Use digital screens within your organization to reinforce these messages and deploy corporate wallpapers or screensavers with these reminders that reach people at their workstations.
Ensure you have information on your intranet site about policies and procedures and the tools available for health and safety.
2. Send reliable advice about travel and quarantine restrictions
The situation is constantly changing and this is likely for some time to come. Monitor official government advice and other trusted sources and update your employees as soon as anything changes. It is best they hear it from the company rather than misinformation from social media. Be equally wary of sending advice that has been sourced via the rumor mill or a fake news site. Send alert notifications to desktops, smartphones and tablets with appropriate advice, such as whether it is safe to travel to a particular city or country.
3. Alert employees if there is an immediate threat
If a member of staff has contracted the virus, or has been exposed to the virus and needs to be quarantined, you will need to alert any employees that staff member has been in contact with so they can take appropriate precautions. This might include going into quarantine themselves.
Similarly, you may learn that a client, customer or contractor that has been in contact with your employees has been affected by the virus.
Send clear, factual communications about what has happened and what steps you would like your employees to take. You should send this information out in a timely manner before rumors can and panic take hold. Also, expect that any internal messaging could become external if someone posts it on social media or provides it to a news outlet, so it needs to be worded in a way you are comfortable with the whole world seeing – and this includes taking into account privacy issues and privacy laws where you live.
4. Allow for localized internal communications
If you work in an organization with a diverse workforce, you’ll already know that what happens in one city or country doesn’t always happen in another. The Coronavirus is no exception: you may have employees in a city that is severely impacted while the rest of your workforce is not. Tailored communications to targeted audiences should be key to your workplace health promotion programs around this issue. This might even mean that you override or relax some of your existing internal communications protocols and allow local management to communicate with their employees and give them the tools to do so.
5. Quiz employees on their knowledge and preparedness
To reinforce your corporate health promotion efforts, send an interactive quiz to your employees testing their knowledge of what health practises they should follow and what they need to do in the event of an outbreak. You can even test their knowledge of which sources of information they should trust. If it transpires that your employees’ knowledge is quite terrible you can revise your internal communications workplace health promotion efforts and try other strategies.