Communicating with Employees During a Crisis

Don’t wait for disaster to strike before figuring out how to communicate with employees during a crisis.
After terrorist bombs ripped through a metro station and airport in Brussels in March, leaders at Cisco Systems were able to account for the company’s 150-plus employees in the area within 24 hours. Thankfully, all were safe.  
But five years earlier—and some 6,000 miles away—Cisco had faced another disaster that tested its communications efforts. When a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan in 2011, Cisco personnel struggled to reach 1,400 employees with timely information. Despite the technology company’s commitment to employee safety, it took more than a week for HR staff to locate all of its area employees and make sure they were safe. 
Although the scale of affected employees in the two scenarios was markedly different, the faster response earlier this year reflects a dramatic transformation in the way Cisco’s leaders communicate with employees in a crisis. Following the devastation in Japan, the company implemented a sophisticated emergency notification system through which HR can draw on updated rosters of employees in affected areas and instantly contact workers through various modes of communication: work, home and mobile phones; work e-mail addresses; and texts. Employees can respond to any of the notifications to let the employer know if they’re safe or need support. The system helps HR quickly identify anyone who needs help.
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