“The current turmoil in financial markets is obviously a distraction to workers,” says Richard Guinn, senior communication consultant at Watson Wyatt. “While companies cannot advise their employees about their investments, they can reassure them about the security of their defined benefit pensions, which are government-backed. Employers can also help their workers understand the implications of their 401(k) investment strategy, including the importance of saving, diversifying portfolios and taking a long-term perspective.”
Guinn suggests that senior executives should keep basic communication tenets in mind:
- Be a leader. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers. Tell employees what you know and what you don’t. Explain the steps the organization is taking to identify issues and resolve problems. Knowing senior executives are there to lead through uncertain economic times is crucial to your people.
- Show your strengths. Reinforce the core competencies and values that make your organization successful. Talk about how they will help the organization thrive in the future.
- Be visible. Credibility, conviction and passion are important messages that only actual presence can convey. Employees can benefit from seeing engaged and informed senior leaders through Webcasts or other interactive vehicles.
- Use your team. Make sure the management team knows how and what to communicate, and that no one is a bystander. Limit potential damage from leaders’ informal conversations that are overheard and ripple through every organization.
- Be coordinated. Coordinate your internal and external messages. Employees should hear company news from the company first.
- Share responsibility. Be clear about what you want your managers and your workforce to do. People want to help, so tell them how. It’s never a bad time to reinforce customer focus.
- Give up the myth of message control. Find ways to listen to what is on employees’ minds. Monitor the press and social media for what is being said about your company and your industry. Have a process for quickly developing and distributing answers to rumors and for clarifying inaccurate statements, such as possible layoffs.
Be humane. Some employees are experiencing personal trauma from falling 401(k) account balances and home prices. Acknowledge their pain and make them aware of the resources at their disposal, such as the company’s employee assistance plan (EAP).