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Employers need to communicate more during stressful times

01 Jun, 2020 Internal communication

Many employees say their leaders need to communicate more during the coronavirus pandemic. In a nationwide UK survey of 16,000 workers in June 2020, Hays recruitment found 43% said leaders needed to improve communication, well ahead of areas such as strategy and planning (23%) and remote staff management (13%).

A third of employees said they have contact with their manager less than once a week and just 29% said they contact with their manager on a daily basis. This decreased over time, according to over a third (34%) who said the amount of contact they had with their manager reduced after lockdown.

Despite employee criticism, 40% of respondents reported that communication was the aspect of their organization which went through the most change since the coronavirus outbreak, ahead of people (24%) and processes (22%).

On the other hand, half (51%) of the respondents rated their leaders’ response to the coronavirus outbreak so far as excellent or good, while 49% said their leadership’s response has been OK to poor.

Yvonne Smyth, director of Hays Human Resources, said that although the current circumstances are unusual, leaders should know how to adapt their strategy. She said: “A leader used to being in an office setting should also be perfectly capable to lead well remotely. The clear differences are the need for leaders to be more visible to their teams, which will rely on clear, transparent and authentic communication, and making sure people know when to expect to hear from you.”

Leading well, Smyth added, is also a question of trust. She added: “If you’ve previously only led a team who you can see and talk to each day in an office setting, transitioning to having everyone working remotely can initially be unsettling if you can’t physically talk to/see everyone.

“Leaders must learn to shake off any mistrust and assumptions if you and your team are to succeed in the new era of work, whereby remote work will no doubt be much more common.”

Communicate frequently

A US survey also found most leaders need to communicate to staff far more often than they think is necessary. Frequent communication reduces fear and uncertainty, and ensures employees have heard the message, according to the findings of the survey of 830 organizations in March-April 2020, reported in the Harvard Business Review in July 2020. Although leaders may experience fatigue from repeating core messages, it is important for them to realize team members need to hear these messages multiple times – in different ways and through different channels.

Leaders need to find positive angles and highlight them at this time when so many people are experiencing bad news and difficult times. They can likewise offset bad news by reminding people of times in which the organization came out on top when facing previous challenges such as during the bust in the early 2000s or the 2007-9 Great Recession.

How organizational leaders communicate can make or break the commitment of their employees. Despite the many challenges the pandemic has brought, one respondent said, “[Our leader’s] calls with us and reassurances that the company has our back are inspiring. I even used it as a humble brag on social media to make sure people know we are still hiring and that this is the sort of company you want to work for when the going gets tough.”

Frontline managers need to be used more to communicate key messages

Senior leaders were delivering the messages, but only half were using their frontline managers to reinforce these messages and explain what they meant for employee work groups. They were using PR (67%) and HR (59%) to deliver these messages more than frontline managers (56%), which is rather mystifying.

Communicators were using a range of media to deliver these messages. Video meetings of one kind or another were used most companies in conjunction with email and intranet. Social media were also being used in the companies surveyed.

The main goals of the internal communication were to ease anxiety and manage change.

Need to make communication address employee needs

Employees were asking mostly about job security, company performance and solvency, bonuses or other incentive pay, and customer impact. However, employers had communicated mainly about company performance and solvency, customer impact, and benefit programs.

In summary, most employers were engaging in intensified communication due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from

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