COVID Impact: New Survey Data: Employee Communications.
30 million Americans are now unemployed as a result of COVID-19. At this point, we are six weeks into social distancing, and a hard reality is beginning to sink in: this is far from over, and the same goes for the economic damage. Those figures could continue to rise as the effects ripple throughout the economy, and every business needs to prepare for it. What People Want When the situation looks grim, people want certainty and clarity from their employers—they don’t want to be victims, they want to be armed with the knowledge they need to prepare for what’s to come. They want to know how they are going to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. And yet, according to a recent survey Clyde Group commissioned, less than half of Americans are satisfied with how their employers are communicating major business decisions like the status of promotions, raises or bonuses (49%) and pay reductions (44%). This point, while unfortunate, is hardly surprising. According to Pew Research, nearly half (43%) of U.S. adults say that they or someone in their household has lost a job or taken a cut in pay as a result of the outbreak. That loss of income, especially for families already living paycheck to paycheck, breeds frustration and anger with employees. Arming Employees to Act People might be less frustrated about the situation if they were adequately informed about their companies’ financial futures. In the past, we have discussed what an executive needs to project in a time of crisis and how to effectively, compassionately conduct layoffs amidst the pandemic, but this brings us to another important aspect of internal communications: transparency. The average employee is smart—they read the same news as their bosses, hear the same economic numbers and have the same fears and anxieties. Effectively communicating with staff means acknowledging this and the ramifications for a business. It means proactively saying, in plain language, how much business a company has lost, how much it is expected to lose in the coming weeks and months, and what that will mean for its future. For company leadership, the solution to a flood of employees questions is an overload of information about what is going on and what is being done to keep their jobs safe. Challenges This isn’t easy, especially without complete information about where a company, or the economy at large, is headed. As the federal Paycheck Protection Program continues to experience issues and consumer spending evaporates, leaders at every business—big or small—are being kept up at night worrying about the future. No one wants to promise 100% staff retention and end up being wrong. No one wants to be responsible for missed bills and angry employees. Employees need to be adequately prepared for whatever befalls an organization, whether it’s a paycut, a furlough, a hiring freeze, or a temporary shutdown. Letting them know that those are possibilities is the first step. Follow Arne Sorenson, the CEO of Marriott’s example—let people know what’s going to happen next and explain how company leaders are working to minimize that impact. If Sorenson can do it for a global organization spanning thousands of hotels and hundreds of thousands of employees, others can share updates in a staff meeting. Employees will appreciate the effort, even if they are disappointed by the eventual outcome.