Communicating During Division and Unrest

Americans have been bitterly divided over a number of issues recently, including the presidential election, racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic. Results of the recent election coupled with another COVID surge have done nothing to quell emotions or calm concerns. While the U.S. election was peaceful, cities across the nation remain prepared for more potential unrest as the results are certified and the winner is officially declared.

And while we all suffer from pandemic fatigue, organizations need to have an updated crisis plan to address the ongoing challenges of these issues and review messaging strategy to make sure it aligns with reality.

Adapted from the professional journal Risk & Insurance (riskandinsurance.com), consider this approach:

  1. Develop a plan. Detail logistics to protect employees and property and prepare a business continuity plan. Will you need to make changes to how and when the work gets done if you cannot use your workplace?
  2. Monitor media. Keep a close eye on social media especially, to keep a finger on the pulse of the mood in your community.
  3. Communicate with key stakeholders, especially employees and customers about your plans. Develop the strategy and messaging ahead of time.
  4. Secure the premises.
  5. Train staff and use down time to practice any shut down processes you have identified in the plan.
  6. Help employees with travel logistics. Curfews, street closures and disruptions to public transportation may interfere with normal travel to and from the workplace.
  7. Don’t forget mental health. Employees are dealing with anxiety and stress. If you have an EAP, promote it across all communication channels.
  8. Consider vendors, too. Give them latitude to deliver another day if the order is not urgent. This helps them to protect their people, too.
  9. Talk to your insurance folks. They have resources that can help you with your response plan and expedite claims if any damage occurs.

What if company leaders publicly backed “the wrong horse?” Will corporate political posturing create a crisis if customers stay away because they disagreed with you? As many sensible people have said, now is the time to lower the temperature on the rhetoric and take steps to build on the things that unite us, rather than divide us.

This is a time to focus on your key stakeholders- employees and customers first and foremost- and deploy a strategy that focuses on moving forward and taking the kind of actions that will help people recover and get back to the mission of the organization. People are suffering from grief and loss, whether it is loss of a loved one or disappointment in election results. People grieve in different ways. Management should acknowledge these realities and deploy strategies and resources to help people process their emotions and return their attention to the work at hand. This is uncharted territory for many employers, but these trying times call for innovative thinking and empathetic messages that help us to find our “new normal.”

Deb Hileman, SCMP

Deb Hileman, SCMP

President and CEO, Institute for Crisis Management