COVID-19: Engage Employees through Effective Communications

The Author is an Accredited Chief Integrity Officer (AceIO) with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Academy (MACA). He is also a Corporate Legal Counsel, Communications Specialist and former Journalist. He also helped develop the Iskandar Malaysia Strategic Communications, Stakeholder Engagement, PR and Media Relations plan as a pioneer in the Iskandar Regional Development Authority in 2007. The writer can be contacted at jeceeb@yahoo.com

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Author: Balbeer S Jessy

With everyone staying indoors, into more than a month of Movement Control Order (MCO) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how is life going to be normal once it is over?

For many employees, Working From Home (WFH) is slowing but surely becoming something to live with. And reassuring for some, companies may continue with WFH for employees for a while more even if the MCO is lifted.

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With no end to the number of COVID-19 cases reported each day, especially in the western countries, fears of an economic catastrophe worldwide caused by the coronavirus is now a real thing. In the US alone, the number of cases is reaching the one million mark with over 50,000 deaths there alone.

No military might nor war is needed to bring the world to such a standstill. The coronavirus; an invisible killer, has caused untold damage and chaos all over the globe. Oil prices fell to the lowest since 1946 a few days ago, world stock markets plummeted, airlines have started folding up…..and the list goes on.

Many organisations, corporate giants and Small and Medium Industries are struggling to keep afloat. Many are rethinking their strategic directions with future negative growth forecast and a slow road to recovery – if ever.

So for any organisation affected by this pandemic, how do they explain to employees on the direction managements are taking, especially if it means affecting their livelihood?

This is where internal communication plays an integral role in ensuring that employees are well informed. While the flow of communication via digital, social media and TV channels is non-stop, the importance of effective internal communications to engage employees is equally important.

During these critical times, how do CEOs and senior management communicate with employees who are working alone from home? How do they address their thoughts on job security, impending pay cuts, possible reduction of benefits, fear of retrenchments and down scaling of work in their organisations?

It’s also neither the duty of the management to ensure they do not get involved in misinformation nor dissemination of fake news. After all, forwarding messages on social groups has become a norm these days, while distribution of fake news is a criminal offence.

With the COVID-19 pandemic being a major crisis, how well are organisations in Malaysia prepared to handle such crisis management through internal communication plans?

What do you do next? How do you manage employees when the MCO is lifted? What precautions should be taken before they start reporting back to work? What do you do now, since all your employees are in their homes? How do your communicate with them and on relevant issues other than just discussing office work?

To address the above, the public and private sector, corporate entities, SMEs and even the services sector should have in place by now their own internal communication plans.

Importance of having an internal crisis communications plan

This is vital as there must be a tone from the top that engages all employees from senior management to the drivers right to the tea lady. There has to be a strategy which disseminates accurate and authoritative information in a transparent manner to all levels in the organisation.

There must be a plan and processes in place to reach all employees through communications channels such as email, intranet postings, fliers, posters, blogs, and videos.

Messaging can be done together with the legal, human resources and internal communication departments for all messaging and materials.

The communication process must be managed well and ready to receive and respond to employee concerns. There must also be an established line of communication for employees to submit questions related to prevention and preparedness measures, and seek answers to their future in the organisation.

There must be utmost transparency and no cover-ups or hiding of information when dealing with your employees. Otherwise, mis-information and “grapevine talk” takes precedence to official messages.

Implementing an Infectious Disease Policy

Since the COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), organisations must now also look at strengthening safety education, establishing self-protection guidelines, and increasing awareness of risk prevention should be given top priority. There must be steps taken to prevent infection in the workplace.

An Infectious Disease Policy is now being developed by many organisations in the United Kingdom and the US, two countries badly hit by the virus. Similarly in Malaysia, all organisations should make it mandatory to have such a policy as part of their Policies and Procedures (P &P).

This policy can be drafted by the Legal Department, HR Department together with the help of the Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) committee, if any, and reviewed periodically. The Internal Communications Department should craft messaging that is clear and simple.

As the COVID-19 is not going to be overcome till a vaccine is found, it is imperative that an Infectious Disease Policy is incorporated by all, if it has not been done, for the benefit of their employees. This should be relayed internally through the organisation’s communications channels.

Such a policy should also have clear protocols and obligations for employees who are at risk. This is to ensure employees know they must self-report in the cases of high-risk travel or close contact with high-risk individuals, just as what Putrajaya is doing at the moment.  

 

* The views expressed are opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.

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