Why you should address the coronavirus with employees

The global health concern is driving lots of conversations online, and employers and communications teams should have a plan to address their colleagues’ worries.

Talking to employees about coronavirus concerns

Even if companies don’t think they’re directly affected by coronavirus, the disease making national headlines is probably on their employees’ minds.

Business travelers, commuters and those who work in close quarters may have heightened concerns about their safety. By not communicating and engaging employees on sensitive matters like the coronavirus, companies could experience decreased productivity, increased costs, reputational risk and other performance challenges.

Employees are a company’s No. 1 asset, so it’s in your best interest to make sure employees know you’re taking potential threats (and their safety) seriously, even if it means delaying projects or addressing logistical challenges.

From violent protests to terrorism to outbreaks, companies should have policies that include communications strategies to address such events.

Remain calm and stay informed

Whether there’s a direct or indirect risk to your company, it’s important to follow reliable news and information sources. For example, continually check on notices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and travel advisories from the State Department. If your company is big enough, consider enrolling with a travel risk and protection advisory company, such as International SOS.

Such companies are in constant contact with health and security officials and have resources on the ground worldwide. Their sophisticated risk assessment and triage resources can assist when an employee becomes ill or winds up in the middle of a political crisis.

When communicating with employees, be exceedingly empathetic and reassure them that their safety is your top concern. Provide objective information about real danger potential, as opposed to the hype they might see on the news or online.

Consider making travel optional if employees are uncomfortable. In the age of social media, an employee ranting to friends on Facebook about a required work trip to a war or flu zone can quickly turn viral and become a major reputational issue.

Promote commonsense prevention

Use CDC or health authority guidelines to instruct employees on how to protect themselves. These precautions are usually basic things like frequent handwashing, use of hand sanitizer, and coughing into one’s sleeve; most important, keep your hands away from your face.

Increase employee access to sanitizing and antibacterial cleaning products for desk areas. These are simple but effective prevention methods that we emphasized in a campaign with Novartis and the CDC to help schoolteachers inform students and their families about virus protection.

If your employees are in countries that use a kiss or a handshake as a greeting, encourage them to put that custom on hold to prevent the spread of illness. Empower employees to work remotely or take a sick day if they are not feeling well.

Make sure that any notices or guidelines your company releases (internal or external) are informed by reliable, well-vetted sources (like the CDC) so you don’t find yourself at the center of a communications debacle.

Even in locations that aren’t yet seeing cases of coronavirus, commonsense reminders can help your employees avoid the very real danger of the common flu virus, which every year causes substantial losses to productivity and revenue and threatens employees’ health.

Rum Ekhtiar is the founder and partner of Rum & Co.

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