When natural disaster strikes, here’s how HR can help

When natural disaster strikes, here’s how HR can help

What is the best support HR can offer employees during a crisis?

The devastating bush fires across Australia are a testament to how quickly natural disasters can completely change everything overnight. Local businesses take a painful hit, and the life-changing impact of these events on company employees lasts long after they are over.

Whether they’ve experienced loss of life or home, injuries or trauma, it’s critical for companies to show compassion to their staff and offer practical support during the aftermath of a natural disaster. It’s times like this that HR truly comes to the fore, by being the personable, human face of a company, and delivering people-centric strategies to help employees move towards recovery.

And it starts with information-sharing. HR can help support staff during a crisis by creating open channel for circulating communication for company-wide updates. This may include useful websites giving real-time updates about a natural disaster’s status, or maps and directions to help staff navigate their way to back-up locations, either for their personal safety, or for them to be able to continue working.

Preparation for distributing information in an emergency is key: it simply cannot happen without regularly keeping employee contact information up to date. Deadlines and more immediate pressures can often overshadow the importance of routinely updating a business’s internal system for storing employee contact information. But staying on top of this crucial piece of admin – and creating a culture where employees recognise their role in sharing any changes – will prove invaluable in a crisis. Also, consider how natural disasters may affect phone signal or internet connection, and factor this into your company’s disaster-recovery plan.

Depending on the severity of a natural disaster – and how widely it has been reported in the media – clients and customers may be in the dark about how strongly a business’s operations have been affected. While certain departments such as PR, marketing and customer relations have parts to play in managing the company’s communications, HR also has a key role here – by representing the employees. The HR department will be the best informed about the status and wellbeing of each staff member, so it follows they should report any changes or setbacks to clients and vendors who will be affected by their absence. Stepping in to provide updates about staff numbers and capacity so that everyone is on the same page is vital for managing expectations about a business’s output – and any delays to operations – while all involved try to recover from a crisis.

The most pivotal of all HR responsibilities during and after a natural disaster is that of employee assistance. For those who have had their lives suddenly turned upside-down, being shown reassurance, understanding and emotional support from their employer is invaluable.

Arranging advance payroll makes a world of difference at a time when employees may have been financially impacted by a disaster, and can help remove some of the immediate strain on their personal resources. And having employee assistance programmes in place, to provide all staff with access to counselling to help process the grief or trauma, demonstrates a commitment to helping them deal with the long-term repercussions of a natural disaster. Making all employees aware this support is available, and reassuring them that they can speak confidentially in a safe environment, is important to ensure people feel comfortable about taking up the offer of these programmes.

If the business is able to continue running during the aftermath of a natural disaster, HR must be clear about what flexible working will look like during this time. Where and how are employees expected to continue working? And what will determine the circumstances for their return to “business as usual”? If a company already has a flexible working policy in place, how is this being adapted in light of a crisis situation? HR must sensitively assess the full extent of how employees are impacted and advocate the need for greater flexibility on behalf of staff and their families trying to get back on their feet.

Consult IWG for a full range of flexible working and workspace recovery solutions