The new year has kicked off in tragic form, right across Australia: an unprecedented bushfire season is burning vast swathes of our beautiful country. It’s a sobering, distressing time. And now is the time to support your people during a crisis.
The significant impact upon families, communities, individuals and the general psyche of our population is difficult to comprehend and remains impossible to measure.
As HR and business leaders, you’re in a position of elevated responsibility. More than anything, your leadership skills are called for right now.
To enable you to support your workers and help keep things on track during this difficult time, we’ve provided a list of 11 practical suggestions to keep your people engaged, to keep morale buoyant and to ensure you’re providing the encouragement and care your people need right now.
1. Have your Employee Assistance Program plan in place
It’s natural for people to feel traumatised by shocking events such as Australia’s current bushfires, even for those not directly affected.
Sadness, trauma and a sense of compassion for our fellow humans take its toll. You can help to support your workers by providing access to a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program, for immediate and long-term emotional support. This needs to be a company-wide offering, where your people can speak to professionals about grief, loss, and the effects of a saddened community.
The impact of trauma can be long-lasting. So, make sure as a business, and as a manager, you’re consistently showing up in support of your people. And, be there to keep people’s sense of normalcy and routine, in place.
2. Establish an emergency plan and share it
In Sydney before Christmas 2019, many CBD buildings were evacuated because of fire alarms which were set off due to the high levels of ambient smoke across the city. This meant unexpected fire drills for many buildings city-wide.
Make sure your evacuation, emergency procedure and related communications plans are well established and can be calmly executed.
Share these plans with your people, both contract and employee.
Provide resources on your intranet, email and departmental notice boards including links to weather sites and air quality apps, local area maps, emergency processes, and emergency kits.
If you can support your people during a crisis in this way, you’ll provide reassurance and confidence.
3. Speak with your people, but don’t intrude
Asking people how they are, and how they’re coping is great. But don’t ask for details of traumatic experiences or losses as you risk triggering people into a state of further sadness and despair. It’s important to check in with your people regularly, encourage them to chat, but don’t intrude on their privacy or their pain. A simple plan to support your workers is vital.
4. Reassure people
As well as encouraging people to engage in chat, make sure they’re aware that feelings of despair, sadness or depression are very normal in these circumstances, especially for those who have been directly affected. If you notice uncharacteristic changes in behaviour, like detachment, flare-ups or absences, be sure to keep your eye on those people as they may be struggling to cope with normal life.
5. Offer flexibility
By displaying empathy and compassion, you’re telling your people that you, and the business, genuinely cares.
To this end, ensure your people are aware of the company’s policies on flexible working arrangements, time off to rebuild (especially if homes and primary shelter has been lost), sick leave, and carer’s leave. The last thing people need if they’re in a state of trauma is to feel insecure about their job. Some people will be focused on survival and rebuilding. Give them the space to achieve this.
6. Be accessible
Provide easy access to and contact information for company leaders, HR, EAP contacts and other key people in your business. Workers may need to get in touch with you at short notice. It’s the very least you can do to support your people during a crisis.
It’s also important also to plan for no-mobile-coverage and no-internet situations.
7. Keep people informed
If there are changes to BAU, operations or any part of your business during a time of crisis, make sure all your people are kept informed – both employees and contractors. Unexpected changes to the business or operations at this time can be difficult for people to adapt to and are best avoided. Keep placing yourself in the shoes of those who are struggling or have been severely affected. Open lines of communication, especially to any mandatory changes, will be gratefully received.
8. Communicate with clients and vendors
Most organisations in Australian capital cities continue to operate as normal, throughout this current bushfire crisis. However, if operations are affected by staff or contractor absences, make sure that you’re keeping clients and vendors informed by managing their expectations. Engaging temporary or alternative contract workers to cover this downtime can be a worthwhile investment.
9. Be prepared for absences
In many capital cities across Australia this summer, air quality is regularly reaching ‘Unhealthy’, ‘Very Unhealthy’ and ‘Hazardous’ levels due to the bushfires.
This can be a real challenge for people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma and is hazardous to everyone given the pollutants thick in the air. Lung damage, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, decreased lung function and other side effects are common. So think about flexible working arrangements for staff and contractors, where possible. Be mindful that worker illness and absences may rise. Also remember, this will pass.
10. Provide a welcoming workplace
For people returning to work after losing land, homes, even loved ones or pets, gaining a sense of routine, security and purpose is critical. A fantastic way to support your people during a crisis is to welcome them back into the organisation without fanfare, but with compassion and authenticity. Different people have different coping mechanisms, so be prepared to steer a rocky ship, for a period of time.
11. Develop a volunteer or fundraising initiative
Australians have been incredibly generous to regional communities throughout the current bushfire season. This generosity has been in monetary donations as well as time, clothes, food and other goods. Still, it’s going to be a massive rebuilding effort to bring these towns back to their former states.
As a business, think about establishing your own fundraising drive, where monies raised or goods donated are given back to communities in need.
Initiatives could include:
- A ‘baked goods for sale’ day
- Sponsored trivia night in the office, providing dinner and drinks for people and an opportunity to get together socially
- Support a ‘10,000 steps and beyond challenge’, where the more steps people walk each day in a given period, the more the company will donate to the fundraiser
- Offer people to take paid time off to help communities in need
- Offer a percentage of company profits during the crisis to the Red Cross or the RFS
Here are more resources to help you to support the Australian communities that have been hit by the bushfires.
We know this is a difficult time for many people in many organisations and we have adopted a number of these strategies in support of our broad workforce.
As one of the world’s top suppliers of contingent worker management solutions, CXC is perfectly positioned to optimise all elements of your contingent workforce strategy. With operations in more than 50 countries across 5 continents, and with decades of experience, we can assist with every aspect of your program.
If you would like to find out more about how we can help with your contingent workforce solutions please contact us here.