Preparing effective communications to protect employee and organizational health in times of crisis.
Scientific Newsflash and Courses of Action
The current pandemic has forced employers to reorganize their business to ensure the company’s survival and productivity. This reorganization has had repercussions on workers’ health and organizational sustainability. Why and how can organizational communication help people get through this crisis?
This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke and is supported by the Chief Scientist of Québec, with the Fonds de recherche du Québec.
Julie Rochefort is a Ph.D student in business administration (DBA) at the School of Management of the Université de Sherbrooke. Her research interest is health innovation management.
Patrice Daneau a Ph.D student in business administration (DBA) at the School of Management of the Université de Sherbrooke. He is interested in employee roles and behaviours that support organizational health.
Content on a purple background represents the recommendations from our Ph.D students.
WHAT IS MEANT BY…?
Major disruptions in economic activity (e.g. sharp decline in economic growth, drop in average household income, budget cuts) and the job market (e.g. reducing or laying off temporary or permanent staff, rise in the unemployment rate) characterized by, among other things, socio-economic uncertainty and instability and market unpredictability.
Perceived imbalance between resources (e.g. sense of control, support from colleagues) available to us and requirements of the job (e.g. increase in workload due to budget cuts).
Sense of insecurity
Worries about the resources available to us (e.g. salary, job, job security, seniority, health, money, information, support) to handle future events (e.g. resumption of economic activity, return to work, personal and professional commitments, employment continuity and continued access to professional and social benefits).
All means used by an organization to inform its staff. Organizational communication is efficient when information is disseminated and circulated freely, and is multidirectional (e.g. upward, horizontal, downward), transparent and adapted to recipients.
WHAT DID THE TWO STUDIES FIND?
A time of crisis can be very stressful and can increase employee and organizational health risks.
SENSE OF INSECURITY*, ** AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TENSION*
RISKS TO EMPLOYEE HEALTH
- Psychological and mental health problems* (e.g. psychological distress, burnout, anxiety disorders, suicidal ideation and suicide)
- Physical health problems* (e.g. feeling unwell, chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease)
- Substance use habits* (higher daily alcohol consumption, increase in antidepressant prescriptions)
- Staff attitudes** (e.g. employee dissatisfaction)
- Workplace safety*, ** (e.g. increase in accidents, injuries)
- Increase in absenteeism*
- Increase in claims** related to health problems
When organizational communication is effective, workers’ sense of insecurity decreases and, as a result, employee and organizational health risks also decrease.**
Organizational information (e.g. announcing staff cuts in advance) serves as a resource for workers if it helps them understand their environment and increases their sense of control so that they can adapt and be better prepared to face the future (e.g. looking for a new job or taking measures to ensure their financial security).
HOW TO COMMUNICATE IN A TIME OF CRISIS TO PREVENT HEALTH RISKS
Implement a strategy to encourage dialogue within the organization
- **Identify a credible spokesperson (e.g. a senior manager) to provide a status report of the situation (e.g. the company’s issues and challenges) and clearly express intentions (e.g. stopping or continuing business, job cuts), commitments (e.g. specific support for laid-off employees), resources available internally and externally (e.g. emergency funds, psychological support) and actions undertaken (e.g. prioritizing the company’s options).
- Dedicate a team (or resource person) to communications and to crisis decision-making (e.g. crisis management unit, communications or human resources team including a senior manager) as the main source of information that works proactively by informing workers concerned, providing follow-ups and creating a routine (e.g. sending a message every Monday and Thursday at a specific time).
- Provide forums for discussion (e.g. collaborative discussion platforms, weekly virtual follow-up meetings) with the parties involved (e.g. managers and their teams, joint workplace health and well-being committee) to encourage dialogue and be able to spot the warning signs of a lack of information or misinformation (e.g. rumours, misunderstandings)
- **Establish and announce a clear procedure (e.g. specify a resource person or an email address dedicated to questions and concerns) so that workers feel free to express themselves. Guarantee the confidentiality of the process as needed (e.g. having a form available).
Communicate, openly, regularly and transparently
- **Implement a routine for regular updates (e.g. a standard message format for all staff and specific content depending on the recipient; and sending this message at the same time and on the same day if possible) to report on developments (e.g. taking stock of the situation and of actions taken and to be taken; openness about challenges, opportunities and concerns).
- **Be clear and transparent about the information given by explaining what is known (e.g. the current number of temporary layoffs), what you know (e.g. the government assistance that will be given), what you don’t know (e.g. whether there will be other layoffs, business resumption date) and what you plan to do (e.g. business resumption rehiring plan).
Be sure to reference verifiable facts (e.g. government policies, public health data) and indicate references for your sources (e.g. senior managers if you have questions, organizational reports) to reduce ambiguity and limit misinterpretations and rumours within the organization. Avoid long or sporadic messages (e.g. several times a day) or simultaneous messages (e.g. duplicate emails from two different authorities).
- **In the short term, opt for technologies that are already proven, accessible to everyone and appropriate (e.g. collaboration platform, email) to send the message to the relevant recipients (e.g. employee call-backs when business resumes) and centralize the information that staff needs (e.g. internal portal to announce the newest measures).
Circulate and disseminate the necessary information
- ** Stay informed of developments in the situation and new directives, and seek out the necessary information when needed. Refer
Refer to the appropriate resources (e.g. crisis unit, your supervisor, employee assistance program).
- ** Be neutral when spreading information by clarifying the reasons for which decisions are made; avoid taking stances (e.g. revealing your agreement or disagreement) and spreading rumours and doubts about actions undertaken by senior management.
Encourage dialogue and participation.
- **Plan daily meetings with the team to discuss developments in the situation and new information available (e.g. taking 10 minutes at the beginning of team meetings).
- **Initiate the discussion (e.g. at the beginning of each meeting, ask, “how are things going?”), take the time to listen to your employees’ concerns and the challenges they are facing (e.g. financial or job insecurity, organizational or work changes) and confirm that you understand the situation (e.g. ask questions and rephrase or summarize the points).
Stay informed, ask questions and be open to dialogue.
- Identify and state your needs (e.g. to know which sectors are affected by layoffs) and your concerns (e.g. to know the criteria for layoffs) as well as your insecurities (e.g. changes to job or employment conditions being considered).
- Learn about the available resources offered by your company (e.g. FAQ, employee aid program).
- Use the appropriate communication channels (e.g. communicate with your manager before writing an email to the CEO) and use the proper communication style (e.g. even if you are stressed, do not communicate in the heat of the moment and remain polite). Do not use communication channels to express your stress and feelings of uncertainty.
HOW TO REFERENCE THIS SCIENTIFIC NEWSFLASH
Rochefort, J. et Daneau, P. (2020). Preparing effective communications to protect employee and organization health in times of crisis. Global-Watch Scientific Newsflash, available at www.Global-Watch.com
Flash written under the direction of France St-Hilaire, associate professor of Human Resources at the Université de Sherbrooke’s School of Management.
FULL STUDY REFERENCES
* Mucci, N., Giorgi, G., Roncaioli, M., Fiz Perez, J., et Arcangeli, G. (2016). The correlation between stress and economic crisis: a systematic review. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 12, 983–993. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S98525
** Jiang, L., et Probst, T. M. (2014). Organizational communication: A buffer in times of job insecurity?. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 35(3), 557-579.
 Adapted from Mucci et al. (2016)
 Adapted from Jiang and Probst (2014)