#Nextchat: Communicating with Employees During a Crisis


Crises come in many shapes and sizes—and always at the worst time—but regardless of how or when the calamity occurred, it’s imperative that all organizations have a crisis plan in place. 

The SHRM Online article “Communicate Effectively in a Crisis” by SHRM editor Roy Maurer shares the basic elements of a well-rounded communication plan:

  • Identify the top threats and vulnerabilities to your organization.
  • Analyze what business functions are critical to your operations.
  • Identify the resources needed to protect those critical business functions.
  • Establish a crisis management team, and designate certain people within that group to be responsible for communications.

An effective crisis plan should include what will be communicated and how. It should also identify the members of the designated crisis team.  

While communication to external stakeholders is essential, more companies are beginning to realize the importance of getting the employee communication right first, especially when word can spread as quickly on social media as by any other form of communication.  

In another HR Magazine article, “Communicating with Employees During a Crisis,” writer Novid Parsi notes that “due to the far and wide reach of social media, the voice of the employee is becoming increasingly important” and that “in an age when every employee can serve as a de facto spokesperson, executing effective internal communications can help ensure worker safety, minimize damage to your brand, return your workforce to productivity and build trust among employees.” 

There is disagreement about whether employees should act as spokespeople during a crisis, but many feel that it’s not practical to block social media. The key is to equip employees with accurate information that they can share with their networks.

Other important considerations? Internal communication must always precede external communication, and all workers must receive the same communication at the same time to avoid confusion. Additionally, every mode of communication must be employed: work, home and mobile phones; work e-mail addresses; and texts.

Communicating internally is also important for ensuring continued productivity. If staff are unaware of their organization’s response, "people are spending more time talking about what’s happening than doing their jobs," says Jeanne Achille, president and CEO of The Devon Group in Red Bank, N.J.  Leaders need to understand how to communicate with employees as quickly and efficiently as possible. "HR should know the best ways to get in touch with employees," Achille says. If the messages will be delivered from managers and not the CEO, then managers should be trained in crisis communications. "HR needs to make sure those managers know how to deliver a crisis message," she says.

Never go silent and never deliver information that cannot be verified. 

Speed is important, but so is accuracy. Incomplete information is still better than no information as long as you notify employees that you are working on getting the facts and will get back to them as soon as possible. 

Achille recommends having a standby statement such as: "We’re looking at the situation, and we’ll be back in touch shortly,” and says that "You want to at least acknowledge you have a sense of what’s going on.”

Through proper planning, HR professionals can efficiently and effectively control how they will communicate during a crisis event.

How have you prepared your organization for a crisis?  

Please join @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on November 9 for #Nextchat with special guest founder, president and CEO of The Devon Group, Jeanne Achille (@jeanneachille). We’ll chat about how organizations can best prepare for crises.


Q1. What are the basic considerations for the foundation of a well-rounded crisis communication plan?

Q2. How can social media outreach be woven into an organization’s crisis communication plan? What concerns should be addressed?  

Q3. What are some key considerations when creating a crisis plan that might involve a natural disaster-related event?  

Q4. In a case of wrongdoing by an employee, which situations should be handled by a crisis team and which should be handled by a manager?

Q5. How does a company handle crisis communications in instances such as workplace violence? 

Q6.  During a company crisis, what are some unanticipated things that can go wrong with the plan? 

Q7. What advice do you have for HR professionals and others involved in creating a crisis plan for their organization?  


 If you missed this #Nextchat, you can read all the tweets here


Check out Leadership in the Eye of the Storm: Putting Your People First in a Crisis which offers a practical guide to help business professionals—including HR—navigate crises by focusing first on the needs of their employees and their families and then on the needs of the organization.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: