Five steps help put the “H” in HR center stage when employees need emergency assistance.
While your organization must continue to function well if a flood, hurricane, fire, or other disaster hits, your employees aren’t immune. They can lose their homes, possessions, and their peace of mind, and your compassion and support can make a tremendous difference. Following five steps can help ensure your employees have the tools, resources, and guidance to heal after a disaster.
- Communicate frequently and clearly. Knowing what is happening at the organization and what is expected of them can help workers feel some sense of normalcy and routine when chaos hits. Let them know in advance (and have it documented in employee handbooks and company policies) how you will be communicating (such as emails, texts, social media, and the company website). Use as many channels as possible so if workers can’t access one, they can get information from another. Keep messages consistent, clear, short, and as positive as possible. Try sending new messages on a regular schedule so employees know when to check for news and updates. Some people will need human contact during troubled times, so make sure there is a place they can go or a number they can call to connect with a real person.
- Detail next steps. As the immediate disaster passes and attention turns to cleanup and restoration, be clear about what employees can expect: when they should be prepared to return to work, if and how they will be reimbursed for time off during and after the disaster, what they should do if they need more time off to handle personal matters, whether it’s okay to bring children to work (if schools/child care facilities are closed), road closings and conditions, and any flexibility to work remotely or part-time. If employees will be expected to participate in cleanup activities, let them know what their roles and responsibilities will be and what special attire will be necessary (such as gloves, rubber boots, or old clothes).
- Prepare to support affected workers. When disasters hit, people and possessions get hurt. Be prepared to help employees impacted by an emergency. Some companies have special funds for employee assistance. For instance, Affinity Living Group, headquartered in North Carolina with assisted living facilities in eight states, established The Affinity Strong fund in 2018. After the devastating effects of Hurricane Florence in 2018, during which dozens of staff members lost their homes, vehicles, and property to flooding, fundraising efforts expanded from employees to include vendors, business partners, and more. Whether you have such a fund or not, be prepared to help employees access the government agencies, social services, community organizations, contractors, and others to help them get back on their feet.
- Encourage and enable volunteerism. Employees likely will want to help less fortunate colleagues and others in the community in recovery efforts. Consider coordinating an internal volunteer command center that managers and employees can communicate with directly. This can be as simple as establishing a special Facebook page and/or adding a donation button to your website. Encourage employees to run errands, deliver food, babysit or pet sit, or donate gift cards and other items. Set an example by volunteering yourself. If you can offer time off or scheduling flexibility to enable workers to volunteer, put guidance on that in writing and communicate this company-wide.
- Address shame and guilt. Those individuals who are proud, independent, and used to taking care of others may not be comfortable seeking or accepting assistance or support themselves. Keep any eye out for people who may need help but are ashamed to ask for it, and help them get what they need in a way that doesn’t hurt their pride. At the same time, some employees will have “survivor’s guilt,” and these people may benefit from professional help or a support group. Encourage them to turn their guilt into gratitude and share their time and energy to help others.