Supporting Employees During Disruptions Builds Operational Resiliency

This is part 1 of a 2-part series about the impact of disruptions on employees and how you can use business continuity planning to support them.If someone asked you a year ago what your organization might look like in 2020, could you have guessed anything close to what we’re working through as a result of COVID-19?

For many, the answer is no.

Even the most prepared leaders and business continuity teams have struggled to keep up with the ever-evolving, broad-sweeping impacts the coronavirus pandemic has had on us personally and professionally.

But there is an upside.

The pandemic shed light on some of the darkest, forgotten corners of operational resiliency, illuminating gaps and potentially impacting future operations forever, especially regarding employee satisfaction, safety, and overall well-being.

Turning Insight into Internal Actions

The lack of attention on the effects of employee well-being during operational disruptions isn’t an area of new concern.

Nearly a decade ago, a human resource professor at San Diego State University, shared in an interview with NBC, that often in crises, companies put all of their focus on external issues such as public relations management.

When focus moves outside of the organization, employees may feel disconnected, worrying about what a disruption means for them. In this instance, it’s not uncommon for employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity issues to arise.

But, as highlighted by the current pandemic, significant disruptions can also have sweeping impacts on employees beyond just morale and productivity.

In some cases, our “new normal” means adjusting to working from home while juggling many hats throughout the day—like simultaneously caring for children who can’t go to school, daycare or summer camp, dealing with unexpected time off related to health issues, and caring for family members who get sick.

And for some, there are additional stresses and worries caused by short- and long-term job losses and financial issues.

These challenges often have lasting negative impacts on employee mental health and well-being.

Disruption Types

While the pandemic garners headlines, there are other increasing trends that can impact workplace disruptions.

Liberty Mutual Insurance, for example, created a Risk Matrix that outlines the top 10 current trends, taking into account impact and frequency levels, including:

  1. Natural disasters
  2. Pandemic
  3. Workplace violence
  4. Opioids
  5. Lack of skilled professionals (talent shortage)
  6. Cyber attacks
  7. Excessive stress
  8. Digital distractions
  9. Travel-related challenges
  10. Harassment

These disruptions, according to the matrix, negatively affect both productivity and organizational profits such as:

  • Financial losses
  • Supply chain disruptions
  • Threats to employee safety
  • Lost time and worker disability claims
  • Costs and time related to training existing staff to mitigate talent shortages
  • Operational downtime
  • Increased likelihood of accidents or mistakes caused by stress and distractions
  • Increased employee turnover

Challenges Created by Disruptions

Employees aren’t the only ones who struggle during times of disruptions. Many organizations also face key challenges that directly affect their operational efficiencies, which, in turn, can have direct negative impacts on employees.

According to BCI’s 2020 Emergency Communications Report, some of those key challenges include:

  • Gathering, validating, and sharing accurate information (58.4%)
  • Communicating with staff (54.2%)
  • Getting staff to follow plan procedures (49.1%)
  • Communicating with key stakeholders and customers (38.1%)
  • Ensuring control of external communications (32%)

So what can you do to better support your employees during disruptions in an attempt to mitigate negative impacts on your employees?

Here are a few tips:

Communicate Effectively

Business continuity planning can help your organization plan communication strategies well in advance of a disruption.

The benefit is you can work through known crisis obstacles—like connecting with the right teams and executives for messaging approvals—as well as limiting the need to make rushed decisions about messaging content during an event.

It’s also important to facilitate frequent communication and two-way engagements.

Even the best planned communication strategies can fall short, so be sure to find ways to facilitate responses, questions, and concerns from your employees, suppliers, executives, and key stakeholders.

An automated notification system (ANS) may be a great addition to your business continuity toolbox. It can help you manage the methods you use to communicate (for example, phone calls, text messages, emails, and in-app notifications or combinations), as well as facilitate responses from your team members.

A quality ANS can also help you manage all of your contact details, ensuring you have the most current, updated information when a disruption occurs.

Did you know that, according to the BCI report, less than two-thirds of organizations say they have processes in place to ensure employee contact details are up-to-date?[JM1] 

Stay in Contact

Many people struggle with change and the uncertainties caused by disruptions. An ineffective communication strategy—or plans that communicate too few details too infrequently—can cause added stress and worry, further impacting employee morale, productivity, and well-being.

Don’t just plan for communications at the beginning and end of disruptions. Build plans to stay in contact with your team members throughout a disruption, providing clear information about what’s happening, what the short- and long-term impacts may be, and an estimated time frame the issue may be resolved.

If new challenges pop up along the way—or if issues are resolved sooner than anticipated—include that in your communications too.

An ANS can help you deliver team or role-specific communications to your employees. This can help you ensure you’re getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

Build Trust

While effective and frequent communications are important, don’t forget about the value of building trust with your teams. Trust-building can help reduce fear, stress, and unnecessary worry.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure your team members—regardless of role—know you value and support them
  • Help your employees understand the value of their roles in your company’s overall success
  • Share validated information with your team members that comes from reliable and trusted sources
  • Understand that sharing inaccurate or incomplete information with your team can cause confusion or other serious negative issues
  • Open the door for two-way engagements that enable employees to share concerns and feedback with you

A survey from Gallup, for example, indicates that employees who are part of organizational conversations about changes, and encouraged to also share their views about those changes, feel valued, which can help keep their engagement at higher levels.

Provide Tools, Resources, Skills-Training as Needed

Remote work has gotten a lot of attention in 2020. That’s because many companies that were hesitant to facilitate work-from-home options for their employees were suddenly forced to do so because of COVID-19.

This change created a number of challenges for organizations, such as procuring equipment and managing cybersecurity and privacy issues, but the changes also had significant impacts on employees.

Some employees were challenged by having to meet productivity standards outside the office; issues further complicated by working in environments where spouses and children are present. And not just present, but the “new normal” now requires parents to wear multiple hats, including acting as an on-site educator while also working full-time.

Some employees didn’t have the hardware and software needed to perform their jobs well, and others struggled to get access to data and other resources needed to complete day-to-day tasks.

These interruptions highlight the importance of providing your team members with the tools, resources, and skills-training they need to be successful, not just during normal operations, but also during changes that may occur because of a disruption.

Adapt and Adjust Productivity Expectations, if Needed

Work-from-home changes brought on by the pandemic also highlight the need, in some cases, to be flexible and adaptable when it comes to adjusting productivity and other performance-related standards during disruptions.

According to the BCI report, productivity loss is among the most frequently cited (69.3%) consequence of general disruptions.

Make Employee Health Support Part of Your Planning

Overall, disruptions of all types, impact, frequency, and length can negatively affect your employees, which, in turn, can negatively affect your operational resiliency.

From productivity and morale, to crisis fatigue and mental health concerns, it’s important to include employee support and well-being in your business continuity and disaster response plans.

Ready for some hands-on help? Let’s discuss how to best achieve your resilience goals.