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Employee engagement during disasters and moments of national crisis

What to keep in mind when disaster strikes.

I've been working in the employee engagement field for 24 years now and I still find that one of the most interesting moments arrives when calamities occur, whether natural or human-made. Unfortunately we've had a lot of them recently, ranging from terrorist attacks throughout Europe to Hurricane Harvey in the United States. Incidents like these present an important moment to engage with your leaders and employees, and often you can do more harm than good by not engaging in the right way. Some things to keep in mind when disaster strikes:

  1. Ensure your employees and their families are safe, and then communicate that.If people have been impacted, get their permission (or permission from next of kin) to share their names and situations with their colleagues. It's natural to want to know if anyone you work with was affected by a traumatic incident, and just because something happens in a location where you don't have operations, never assume employees couldn't have been there on vacation or for other business reasons.
  2. Determine your company's response in terms of support and monetary contributions. Depending on your industry and the geography affected, the appropriate response may be simply to donate money and/or match employee donations to an established organization like the Red Cross. In other situations, it may make more sense to contribute your products, expertise, logistics network or arms and legs to help out. Make sure you understand what your company's doing so employees can be kept informed and contribute as it makes sense. There will be a time to let the media and others know what you're up to, but that comes later.
  3. Understand how you can support your customers or potential customers impacted by the situation. This can include extending payment terms, offering free or discounted products or services, or even leadership outreach to the leaders of your customers to let them know you're thinking of them and are there to help. It's important to make sure you are not inadvertently profiting from the disaster or situation, as the cross-hairs of global social media will be trained on you quickly if that's the case.
  4. Keep the updates coming, but appropriately so. For better or worse, our attention spans are short. Strike the right balance between updating employees on recovery efforts for natural disasters with knowing when enough is enough.
  5. Have a plan in place for the next time. While the learnings are fresh in your mind from a recent crisis, take note of the shortcomings and what worked to improve your incident response plans for the next time.

What else would you add to this list?