Safety plus: what employees expect from companies in times of disaster
The majority of The Bahamas was just spared direct impact from one of the worst hurricanes in the history of the Atlantic. Feverish preparations were underway especially in the wake of the all too recent memories of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The devastation experienced in that storm revealed fear, trauma, depression, anxiety, displacement, and financial shortage, to name a few. In fact, some people are still rebuilding and restoring their lives and here comes another even stronger one.
Businesses pull out their disaster preparedness plans and strategies are put in motion. What consideration, however, is given to the mental, emotional, and physical needs of affected employees? How does this impact the workplace? What can employers do to include the human side of disaster preparedness?
1. Employ an effective communications plan. Lack of information creates panic and gossip. Getting information about the storm, the disaster management strategy of the company, and hours of operation is vital for employees to know. Depending on one form of communication is not good. Don’t just rely on emails or text messages. Have regular meetings as needed; set up a social media platform to send messages. Have a designated person – perhaps the HR representative – whose phone number is circulated to all staff and is a point of contact for up to date information about the storm and what to expect afterward.
2. Consider pay and leave policies during natural and other disasters. One of the most frequently asked questions during a hurricane or some other form of issue that may warrant the temporary closure of a business is, “Am I going to get paid while I’m off?” This is something that has to be considered by companies. Will employees be paid prior to the hurricane’s approach? Will they be paid after and for how long? What if employees have been displaced or suffered significant damage? Will they be allowed time off with or without pay to deal with their situations?
3. Establish support systems and policies to assist employees after a disaster. Dealing with natural or other forms of disasters can be traumatizing. I facilitated a few small group sessions on resilience and facing challenges with a company after Hurricane Matthew. Many of the staff – men and women – were still very shaken and emotional. Some because they couldn’t be there to support family members on other islands, others because of great loss, the fear of the raging winds and rising water, or having to evacuate and find shelter. Responsible and caring companies will create support systems for their teams to face and recover from the toll that enduring a crisis can have on them.
4. Be empathetic toward employees’ ongoing challenges. There is no timeline for healing and rebuilding takes time. There are people who are still undergoing repairs to their homes since last year’s hurricane and even the year before. Some people’s lives never got back to normal. Some people had to leave their homes to relocate to find work because businesses closed down. That type of move under normal circumstances can be trying, imagine when it is unexpected and undesired. Some people have had to live in shelters for longer than they anticipated, only to discover that their home and possessions were destroyed. This is not something that someone will ‘get over’ in a few days or a few weeks’ vacation. So imagine this shaken, broken person coming in to perform routine tasks as if all were well. Not so. I knew someone who was stretched emotionally to her wits end because she had to evacuate during the storm. She developed a severe anxiety and fear of water, to which the sound of rain triggered that fear. She felt that her company did not care because there was no support offered and the expectation was that she return to ‘normal’ but her normal no longer existed.
The entire world is going through hardship whether manmade or natural disaster, to the point where it is a part of our everyday lives to hear bad news about acts of violence, terrorism, financial drought, or natural disaster. Companies cannot reasonably expect to not be affected directly or indirectly by these occurrences. Rather, they must find ways to be responsive to these situations and to the members of their teams and families who are also dealing with them, oftentimes in much closer proximity. Focusing only on business safety in disaster preparedness is not enough.
• Simmone L. Bowe, MSc, SPHRi, is a seasoned human resource and organization development consultant & trainer, speaker, author, mentor, and activist who focuses on helping business owners, leaders and professionals diagnose their people and performance problems and implement strategic solutions. For comments, queries and bookings, email email@example.com.