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How to protect your workforce from the unexpected

Workplace emergencies are (thankfully) uncommon, but it's important to have a plan in place. Check out these best practices for protecting your workforce.

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True emergencies are (thankfully) a fairly uncommon occurrence in the workplace. However, they do occur, and as an HR/benefits leader, you and your team have a responsibility to your people to be prepared. Still, with so many other things on your plate, planning for a hypothetical situation may not feel totally top of mind. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to get your ducks in a row for an emergency plan. Here are some of our tips.

1. Know your communication options.

In all likelihood, you’ve done some research on what communications channels are most effective for your people when planning for Open Enrollment. You can also put that research to work when planning ahead for other situations that can arise.

In a crisis, employ the communications channels that you know your audiences use most frequently. Different crises may impact different segments of your population—an air quality issue, for example, may impact older employees disproportionately—so if you have insights into how those groups prefer to receive communications, tailor your outreach accordingly. And keep in mind that some crises may impact your population’s ability to receive communications; in those instances, make sure you’re exploring other options or using multiple channels (Is the power out? Consider putting up signage around the office in addition to sending a company-wide email).

2. Communicate quickly and with authority.

When the unexpected occurs, the rumor mill goes into overdrive. And that’s understandable—people are scared and trying to grasp whatever information they can find. To combat that, make sure your team is communicating as quickly as possible and on official channels. Even if it’s just to acknowledge that an emergency situation is underway, it’s critical that your people know they can trust you to get them accurate, timely information.

Often, there’s a reluctance for teams to communicate until they have exhaustive information, but it’s okay for you to communicate without having all the details—just let your people know that you are aware of what’s happening and will share updates as soon as you have more details. To further expedite the process, develop templates for these communications in advance—that can help to cut down on approval times in the future. And as you learn more about crisis situations, share information out regularly and quickly so your people don’t turn back to the rumor mill.

3. Work with proactive vendors.

Crisis communications don’t have to fall entirely to you and your team. Often times, proactive vendors will get ahead of potential crises and do much of the communication work for you.

When, for example, a portion of our Collective Health membership was impacted by power outages recently, our team proactively identified members with home infusion machines or powered compressed oxygen machines and reached out to help them find charging stations and get backup battery packs or transportation to those stations. We also proactively did early small batch refill approval for people with refrigerated medicines like insulin that might go bad without refrigeration. These are the situations that show if a vendor truly prioritizes member experience—or if they’re just paying lip service to it.

4. Plan ahead as much as possible.

While every crisis situation is unique and requires some thinking on your feet, preparation is key to handling them as smoothly as possible. Create crisis plans and chains of approval in advance, periodically checking in on them with your team to make sure they’re prepared and know their roles. Keep your plans current with communications preferences, available technology, current staffing, and anything else that might have changed. Consider designating one day of the year as a day to revisit those plans, tweak them as needed, and remind your team to review them, as well.

And when you do have to put a crisis plan into action, take time afterward to assess what worked and what didn’t. While these situations are thankfully rare, the best way to make sure your plan works in the future is by applying real-life learnings.

While you’ll hopefully never have to deal with a crisis in your workplace, solid preparation is the best way to ensure that you’re able to address these effectively and with the least amount of disruption for your workforce.

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