Crisis Management in the Workplace and the Role of the HR Team

[Editor's note: This guest post comes to us from the human resources specialists at BreatheHR, and discusses the challenging roles that HR must play in the crisis management process.]

The first step in getting ready to handle crisis at the workplace is to acknowledge that it can happen anywhere and at any time. Residents of Oklahoma did not know that such a catastrophic tornado would hit them. Boston marathoners did not expect that such a widely publicized event can be interrupted by bombs.

To effectively deal with a crisis, companies should be able to react correctly when such situations arise. Being prepared for a crisis is about building the capacity of employees to tackle serious disasters by equipping them with the knowledge on how to make serious but important decisions that will safely steer the organization through the storm.

HR teams must ensure that the strategic plan takes into account the health, safety and welfare of employees. Through collaboration with other organizational leaders, HR can assure that the human capital is taken care of in all crisis management and business continuity plans.

4 steps to smart HR crisis management

Step 1 – Develop a crisis preparedness plan that fully integrates the human capital

HR managers should work collaboratively with other key organizational functions, identifying the types of emergencies that the company may face. Once threats have been identified, a needs assessment should be conducted to determine resources needed for continuing business operations.

With potential disasters and resources needed in mind, the following plans should be defined:

  • Emergency Response Plan, including evacuation, sheltering and lockdown.
  • Crisis Communications Plan, describing how to efficiently communicate with employees, customers, the media and stakeholders.
  • Business Continuity Plan, listing strategies to overcome the disruption of business.
  • IT Plan, including recovery of computer hardware, connectivity and data.

Step 2 – Establish a Crisis Management Team

The crisis management team is responsible for formulating the policies that will be followed during the crisis, they must consider all options and come up with contingency plans. It should be composed of people from all cadres, including the head of departments, line managers and human resource representatives.

The recommended roles within the crisis management team are:

  • Team leader: Coordinates the activities which will be carried out during the crisis.
  • HR manager: Works to resolve the human issues created by the crisis.
  • Security director: Serves as primary information officer.
  • Finance director: Is in charge of funds during the crisis.
  • Lawyer: Provides legal counsel.
  • Media director: Conveys well vetted information to the media.

Step 3 – Focus on information and training

Information has to be communicated in an effective manner during the crisis. Advisable crisis communication channels include:

  • Special area on company intranet.
  • Special section of HR help center.
  • Telephone hotline for employees.
  • Daily bulletin board postings, or email updates.
  • Password-protected Internet site with a discussion section strictly for managers.

Source: Crisis Management in Today’s Business Environment: HR’s Strategic Role by Nancy R. Lockwood, 2005.

In addition to this, exit points in the building have to be clearly labeled, and so should assembly points. There ought to be legible notices on the walls that direct people what to do in case of an emergency. Employee records should be backed up, and ideally a cloud-based HR software should be considered. Online HR systems offer the possibility of storing all HR documents in the cloud, making policies, internal records and procedures easily accessible during an emergency.”

Training is essential to ensure that everyone knows what to do when an emergency hits. Members of the crisis management team should be trained so they are familiar with their responsibilities within the emergency, communications and business continuity plans. All employees must become familiar with protective actions for life safety, as well as building and information security.

Step 4 – Plan for recovery phase

After the crisis is over HR managers have serious issues to deal with. Employees will most probably be demoralized, and will need help getting back on their feet. The stress that is associated with undergoing a traumatizing experience has to be dealt with promptly. In some cases relocation is unavoidable and employees have to be assisted in order to adapt to the new work environment. In other cases, death results from the crisis. The organization eventually has to rise from the ashes and valuable employees who fell during the crisis have to be replaced, which is yet another function of HR.

This post was written by freelance writer and HR professional Marilyn Vinch. If you liked what you’ve read, you can follow Marilyn on Twitter: @mary_vinch.

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