Communicating About Ebola to Employees

Communicating About Ebola to Employees

By Vitiello Communications Group

“What are other CEOs telling their employees about Ebola?”

That’s the question one of our clients asked me last week as we were crafting the CEO’s message to U.S.-based employees about the deadly virus. To find out, I polled a group of seasoned business communicators about how they are counseling the C-Suite to talk about Ebola with its employees. Here are three tips I gleaned from executives who are addressing the situation effectively:

State the facts. One CEO of a hospital system in the Northeast recorded a brief video message to staff members, reminding them of the training they’d received in the previous months to prepare them for the outbreak of infectious disease. He acknowledged that they were taking the threat of Ebola seriously, but that there was no cause for panic. He reassured workers that safety is the top priority, and sent a letter to their homes so that their families would be aware of the precautions.

Business leaders outside of the healthcare industry are also providing employees with basic facts about Ebola. An insurance company in the Great Lakes region engaged its pandemic planning team, and is monitoring the Ebola situation daily. In addition, the chief medical officer of a financial services company in the Midwest recorded an educational video and posted an informational article on the intranet.

Share the plan. One global pharmaceutical company based in the East coast issued an email to all employees in the United States, outlining a variety of activities the company is managing in response to the outbreak of Ebola. The plan included ensuring the safety of all employees worldwide, restricting business travel to affected countries, sending research scientists abroad to provide expertise in finding a way to stem the spread of disease, and providing significant funds to humanitarian organizations caring for Ebola patients and their families.

Another major pharmaceutical company, headquartered in New Jersey, has been publishing a series of articles on its intranet to provide information on what the company is doing to support the effort to develop treatments to counteract the disease.

Set the example. Executives in our sample exuded a sense of calm and expressed appropriate concern in their communications about Ebola. Their overarching messages were on the safety of employees and the dissemination of factual information. They eschewed the hype that’s been evident in the news media. Instead, they focused on addressing aspects of the Ebola situation that they could control—making donations to relief programs, providing training to healthcare workers and reinforcing company policy regarding travel restrictions.

At Vitiello Communications Group (VTLO), we know that communicating regularly and often during a crisis is essential to keeping employees informed and feeling safe. Use multi-dimensional communications, such as digital, print and face-to-face discussions, and make information easily accessible on a dedicated intranet page. Mobilize a cross-functional team from Communications; Human Resources; Health, Safety & Environment; and business lines to monitor how the Ebola situation is impacting your organization and to develop a response strategy. Then, select one key spokesperson, such as the CEO, the chief medical officer, or another leader, to communicate directly to employees and to external stakeholders, including the media. Establish daily briefings with the team to stay current and nimble.

Need a jump-start on your company’s Ebola communications plan? Send me an email.

For facts and updates about Ebola, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites.

Stay safe!

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