By Acara Regional Director of Business Development, Marc Sweger
Unexpected events like COVID-19 test every organization’s preparedness. Situations like these can also impact a company’s brand and reputation. Though there have been many scenarios that caused business disruption before, nothing has been quite like Coronavirus. Product recalls, poor employee safety records, and significant upsizing and downsizing all have established response plans and best practices. What’s unique about COVID-19 is that how employers react now will stay with them long after the epidemic is over.
Fast forward to the next time you’re interviewing someone for an open role on your team. The candidate you really want to hire is sitting across from you and asks, “How were your employees impacted during the COVID-19 crisis?” or “What did you do for your team to help them through Coronavirus?” Available talent is already asking us these questions about our clients and business partners, so being prepared to answer them will help you secure top talent.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself now, knowing the answers will be critical in the future.
How quick was your response?
Organizations that acknowledged the crisis early and employed strong communications plans are in a better position to retain the trust of their workers. Employees need to know their leadership is vigilant, responsive, and ready to make important decisions.
Was your response communicated clearly and effectively?
Travel restrictions and closures happened fast, which created a lot of uncertainty. The most effective communications were pointed, clear, and open about business continuity and financial outlook. Proper communication should reinforce team cohesion and reduce any feelings of exclusion or exploitation.
Was your response rooted in compassion and/or empathy?
Uncertainty can easily trigger irrational responses. Though tough decisions need to be made in times like this, most people would prefer to know upfront how they may be impacted instead of being surprised by a later decision. An organization will earn more trust by being honest and allowing employees to begin preparing themselves for what may lie ahead.
How were affected employees treated?
Once the tough decisions have been made regarding layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, etc., the way affected employees were treated will impact a company’s brand and reputation for a long time. The organizations that provided tools, information, and support to their employees will recover more quickly. Organizations that take a measured approach to returning employees to work will also find themselves ahead. However, returning employees to work too soon can become a safety issue that has even longer-lasting ramifications on a company’s reputation should any issues occur.
Do you have a social media response plan?
Affected employees may take to social media and employment sites (ex. Glassdoor) to voice complaints about how they were treated during COVID-19. Prospective employees will go online to research your company reputation, so be sure to have responses planned for any negative comments. Also, where possible, take criticism to heart. If online comments illuminate opportunities for improvement, take action to get better. Prospective employees will appreciate the effort you put forth to make progress.
The balance between risk and trust is critical. Organizations must be aware of the various dangers, have the integrity to respond responsibly, and show extra care for those affected most by the crisis. Companies that continue to navigate uncertain times with these things in mind will be in a better position to respond the next time someone asks about your response to the crisis.
Also, don’t hesitate to connect with Marc on LinkedIn if you have any more questions.