During times of crisis, it is crucial for organisations to focus on engaging and communicating effectively with their employees. This becomes even more important with the increased tensions and protests surrounding South Africa’s elections. Organisations facing challenges like insecurity, water, and energy shortages, along with ongoing protests, need to make sure their workforce stays united and well-informed.

“Having a communication tool that reach blue-collar and frontline workers is crucial for keeping them updated and safe during uncertain times,” says Merel van der Lei, CEO of Wyzetalk.

The essence of crisis communication is steering clear of silence, with proactive communication becoming the linchpin for ensuring employee safety, says Van der Lei. “Remaining silent is a critical misstep. Failing to communicate during turbulent times not only severs ties with employees but also undermines their trust in you.”

What are the common pitfalls to avoid when communicating with employees during emergencies?

Navigating the pitfalls of crisis communication

A common mistake during crisis communication is not keeping your audience in mind. “When there’s a communication mismatch between executives and their workers, it can easily cause a rift and increase tensions,” says Van der Lei. “Using overly formal language that fails to resonate with your workforce can further exacerbate the divide.”

Another critical pitfall lies in the absence of empathy. Neglecting to address employee’s concerns, particularly during uncertain times like strike actions, can instil fear and sow mistrust. “It’s essential to keep your workforce informed, especially during sensitive situations like wage negotiations,” emphasises Van der Lei. “By transparently explaining the company’s position, such as why certain wage increase demands may not be workable, organisations can bridge the gap and foster understanding.”

She provides an illustrative scenario, “For instance, clarifying that a substantial across-the-board wage increase could lead to significant job losses, helps employees comprehend the bigger picture and the company’s constraints.”

Having a digital communication channel in place serves as a significant facilitator, she notes. While face-to-face interactions with smaller groups are workable, using a single platform to reach the entire workforce or specific segments enables timely notifications, such as informing them about the temporary closure of a mine or factory or advising on alternate routes to work because of protest actions.

The effects of bad communication during times of crisis can be catastrophic for companies. “Poor communication results in a difference of opinion, increased dissatisfaction and a longer resolve time for disputes,” she says. In extreme cases, disputes turn violent and physical, tarnishing the employer’s brand and reputation significantly.

By addressing these pitfalls proactively and prioritising clear, empathetic communication, organisations can navigate crises more effectively and safeguard their relationships with employees.

Fostering a transparent and trusting workplace

In times of uncertainty, critical communication plays a pivotal role in fostering trust and providing reassurance to employees. “Setting up a regular cadence of communication will not only brand the organisation as reliable and stable but will also counter the risk of fake news and misinformation doing the rounds among employees,” says Van der Lei.

Even in times of ambiguity, like the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, consistent (even if repetitive) communication helps dispel fear.

Consistent communication not only informs but also manages employees’ expectations, as Van der Lei explains. “For instance, after reaching an agreement, you could inform your employees about the likely time for their return to work. This will go a long way to keep them informed and build transparency.”

Your tone of voice and choice of language are also important. “Keep the language appropriate and understandable for your audience,” she says. “Remember, it’s not a press release to external stakeholders; it’s a message to your workers to keep them updated.”

Be sure these messages address any concerns your workers may have.

The biggest advantage of effective communication during a strike or any other crisis is that employers can control the narrative. “What we’ve seen with our clients is that when employers communicate well with their employees, the time taken to resolve disputes is much shorter,” comments Van der Lei. “By being consistent and transparent, companies can get back to work much faster.”

Finally, she recommends keeping the lines of communication open. “In a crisis, it’s important to remain calm,” she shares. “Everything you communicate should have a neutral tone, even though emotions may run high.”

Wyzetalk offers a crisis communication tool enabling instant and targeted messaging to frontline workers in various industries, including mines, manufacturing plants, factories, distribution centres, and retail stores, facilitating effective communication during critical situations.