Just when you thought it was safe to take a deep breath...the Swine flu shows up! This has been quite a year so far...hasn't it? The United States has officially declared a public health emergency, and Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, told a teleconference just this week that more cases in Canada are, in his words, "just a matter of time."
So, let's see....we're in an economic climate we haven't seen since the 50's, we've got an ongoing terrorist threat, a looming pandemic, and, in Ontario at least, a Spring that just won't seem to commit. Hum....I think we have the making of a perfect storm here.
When a whole whack of things all become unpredictable at once, fear becomes the emotion of the day. And, savvy leaders know that, as the environment changes, their leadership style needs to change along with it. In times like these, change leadership needs to morph into crisis leadership.
What can you do for yourself and your people now?
During a crisis people need three things. They need to feel safe, the need to have hope, and they need to know that someone is doing something about the situation! Now, let's establish some foundational truths here; you didn't create the conditions that are rocking everyone's boats - but, as their leader, you do need to take steps that will help them settle down and maintain productivity at work in the middle of the storm. So, an effective response isn't one of defending or necessarily 'fixing' the situation, it's more about communicating and supporting people. Now remember, during crisis, keeping the business going is job #1.
Feeling safe at work is a basic human need. Many of your employees likely have concerns regarding their potential for exposure to the Swine flu, at work, and will want to know the steps that you're taking to ensure their well being & safety. Communicating what you DO know and what you ARE doing will help everyone's comfort level. Here are four practical things you can do to help your employees:
1. Communicate: You can't over communicate in a crisis. Communicate to your employees that you're following the situation closely and will take all necessary steps to ensure their safety and health. Oh, and watch your language. Use words like 'the situation' in place of 'the impending death of thousands' and, 'our response' in place of 'the only thing we can do', etc. Words are powerful, choose yours wisely.
2. Have a Plan: Ask people to report to their supervisors/managers right away if they are experiencing any flu-like symptoms. In the US - OSHA has a special site for the pandemic influenza. OSHA recommends that, if you don't already have a pandemic flu plan, you get one- quick!
3. Review & Adjust Your Policies: Review and adjust your leave of absence and telecommuting policies and adjust them, if you need to. And, for everyone's sake - encourage employees to stay at home if they experience flu-like symptoms.
4. Utilize Your EAP Program: If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), remind employees that these services are available to help them cope with the stresses that often result from this sort of medical crisis.
Being pro-active in this way will give your employees hope and reassure them that you are on top of things. Your staff are adults, they know you don't control these 'situations' - but knowing that you're thinking about them allows everyone to get back to their work.
For those of you who may not know, I am certified in Critical Incident Response Debriefing and have been called into companies to help with everything from a 9/11 type occurrence to a brewing scandal. If I can be helpful to you over the next while, don't hesitate to call me. We're all in this together...