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How to Talk to Your Employees as Covid-19 Continues

We are entering week five of the biggest economic and health-related crisis the country has ever seen. No one knows when this ends or what the “new normal” looks like. Your employees are anxious and scared and are looking to management for leadership, guidance and hope.

Now more than ever, employees want and need to hear from you.  You are building your new company together. How corporate leaders communicate with their employees to manage this continued disruption will be foundational to:

  • Allaying fears – helping employees overcome anxieties
  • Influencing behaviours – helping employees continue to perform
  • Positioning for the future – helping employees rally behind organizational success

In fact, your strategy for communicating with employees over the coming 6-8 weeks may not only help keep your corporate culture alive – done right, it can even help it thrive.  On the flip side, if your team isn’t feeling connected, committed or part of your corporate community after going through the worst month of their careers together, stop what you’re doing. Now is the time to re-set. 

Tip #1:  Be human 

Being human with your team will make a big difference. This means being fair about work-from-home realities. Zoom, FaceTime and WebEx have unintentionally invited our colleagues into our homes and have made us all a bit more human.  Showing interest in, and being understanding about, family interruptions or pets in the background can go a long way in building camaraderie and community.  In addition, showing gratitude and recognizing staff are key. 

Tip #2: Be honest

While showing humanity is important, it is equally important to be honest with your teams.  Treat them like grownups – they want to hear the truth from you. Direct yet compassionate updates and feedback are essential.  And, don’t promise what you can’t deliver.  Things are changing rapidly; don’t write cheques you can’t cash. 

Tip #3: Focus on what matters

What’s more, what a company now says to its employees really matters. The classic mistake is talking about what you want to say rather than what your employees want and need to hear. And if you think your employees will continue to go the extra mile for you in the face of this crisis when they don’t believe you have their best interests at heart, well, you might just have another crisis on your hands.    

So, here’s what employees want to hear from you over the coming weeks as a new pace of work begins to normalize.  Know that these also apply to communicating with employees that have been temporarily laid off – they are still looking to you for updates. 

  • They want to hear what you are doing for them. COVID has put communicators in a precarious position – not being able to signal to your employees and customers when this is going to end. Communicating with an unknown timeline is challenging week after week.  What’s important is that you keep at it with clarity and empathy by sharing what you are doing to support their professional, and even their personal, lives.   
  • They want to hear what you are doing for customers. Employees get up everyday to meet the needs of their clients and customers. Whether they are an architect or an analyst, each and every one of your employees is committed to the people they serve.  And they want to know how the company will continue to support these clients and customers in these extraordinary times. 
  • They want to hear about what you are doing to help. An incredible range of corporate leaders across the country are stepping up in both big and small ways to help in the fight against this pandemic. Corporate leadership can play a powerful role in building employee pride and loyalty – in both the short and longer term. You can do this sharing genuine stories and examples of what your company is doing to support the response.   

Although this crisis is anything but normal, we encourage you to do what you would in any crisis – lead with your values. Your corporate values are the guidepost you need right now.  Staying true to these values – such as honesty, transparency or collaboration – can be the most valuable communications tool you have and can help frame your content in a way that will set the tone for allaying fears, influencing behaviours and positioning for the future.

Check out our tip sheet below for specific examples of communicating with your employees during COVID-19. 

McMillan Vantage – Communicating with Employees During COVID-19 TIP SHEET



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