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Wellbeing Before, During and After a Crisis

retro type-writer typing word 'crisis'

When plans are being prepared to help organizations deal with the worst moments in their operation, they often forget one essential element – people.

It is the employees of the business that will be the ones to secure a successful response. But in a flurry of decisions needing to be made and challenges to be met at speed, they can often be overlooked.

The role of wellbeing in crisis planning

The impact of a crisis on people has the potential to last a lifetime, so we must rewrite our crisis communication and crisis management plans to minimize it.

In my experience of dealing with crises, the central element is identifying who has been affected. I liken it to a pebble being thrown into a pond - the point of impact is where the most severely affected people are, then the impact lessens as the ripples move out. The same is true for a crisis. The effect will be most serious at the centre and then reduce the further away you are.

In the crisis planning for organizations, there needs to be a focus on where those people are, and most importantly, what can be done to help and support them. There may be a media lead and a social media lead, but where is your affected people lead, or your wellbeing lead? How are you going to step in quickly to make sure employees are supported throughout the crisis?

During this COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen first-hand how important wellbeing is, as we have all felt our own struggles because of the circumstances we face. Employee engagement and communication became front and centre of the crisis communication response, but still, for many organizations struggling to survive, the wellbeing of staff and those they provide products or services for was low on the list of priorities.

What makes an effective crisis communication response?

Responding to a crisis should always be rooted in the intention of limiting the negative impact of what has happened to people. It requires leadership to be focused on making decisions based on being human, rather than to protect reputation.

Effective crisis communication response comes from putting your efforts into what matters, which means addressing what has happened but also supporting those who are affected. Having one without the other will not lead to an effective response.

Once you have put support in place, you cannot assume that it will be a short-term thing. Being there to support staff and others following a crisis can continue for months and even years. It does not end when the crisis ends - there will be future trigger points that can put pressure again on the employees responding and those affected.

Mapping these moments (whether they are dates of inquiries, anniversaries, or other issues), is essential to ensure you are prepared and ready to respond in the future. It may be as simple as ensuring people know what is happening before it becomes public, to help them deal with what is ahead.

Supporting wellbeing to build resilience  

Planning, responding, and recovering with a maintained focus on people is also key for building resilience both for individuals and the organization. Being prepared and having plans that people understand and know how to implement affords some certainty when chaos strikes – which can be a real source of relief when faced with stress and uncertainty elsewhere. It is why we need to continue to talk about crisis readiness and crisis response, even after the crisis ends.

With all that in mind, here are seven key things organizations can do to help transform their crisis response and support employee wellbeing:

  1. Rewrite the crisis plans and create roles that are focused on employee communication and wellbeing, such as scenario planning, to ensure the right actions to support people will be taken.

  2. Train communication staff to be able to consider consequence management and deal with the affected people. Ensure crisis exercises stress test the wellbeing plans in place.

  3. Make sure the business has an ‘affected people plan’ in its crisis response. This means clear processes for dealing with bereaved families and others who may have been caught up in the crisis or affected in different ways.

  4. Create a culture at work that makes it acceptable to ask for help and speak up when you are struggling. It is never a sign of weakness - just a sign that you are human and need some support.

  5. Avoid any language that may be upsetting or distressing to those who have been affected. Whenever any communication is being written, think about what those at the centre of the crisis would think about it.

  6. During the crisis, challenge any organizational decision making that puts the needs of people anything other than top of the priorities list.

  7. Consider your recovery plans and where people feature in both the priorities and actions. Whatever you do, it needs to be resourced for the long term.

A crisis response that is focused on helping people, built into a communication plan that supports those who are most affected, is what is required in 2020 and beyond.