A huge point-of-failure may be lurking in your business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan. The flaw may not be obvious at first glance. Even worse, extensive testing and exercising may fail to reveal the weakness. You see, the whole response and recovery process relies on people for its proper execution. And, in a real critical incident affecting life and safety, even the sincerest of employees may not follow your well-crafted business continuity plan if they are worried about or distracted by the well-being of their own families and loved ones.
If, in your resiliency planning, you do not have intentional strategies for dealing with employees’ families, now is a good time to consider steps you can take to improve company-family interactions during a crisis. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Proactively and regularly promote family preparedness. Some managers believe individual/family preparedness is strictly an employee’s personal business. While it is true employers can’t force workers to take readiness steps at home, they can make consistent and persistent efforts to educate them on why it’s important and how to best prepare. Numerous resources exist from which a manager can draw, including standard informational outlets such as Ready.gov. However, don’t assume your workers will find these resources unassisted. Nudging and reminding from their employer over time will have a greater impact on behavior.
Encourage employees to provide alternate contact information. While employers generally can’t mandate that employees provide non-work-related personal contact information, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. Explaining to employees why the information is needed, how it might be used and how it will not be used can go a long way in convincing workers to willingly give you their personal data.
Implement ways to determine real-time employee safety status. Today’s technologies provide ways of determining the safety status of employees at various times throughout a critical situation. This is particularly advisable in an event where employees are evacuated or displaced. Basic “Are you OK?” questions can be sent via an automated alerting service over a multitude of personal devices. Able employees can respond, and all feedback can be aggregated into centralized reports. This information is valuable for conveying appropriate incident response actions; it also may serve as a source of information for family members who have not been able to make contact with their employee loved-ones through other means.
Create and promote an inbound hotline for families to access during urgent situations. Families should have a readily accessible telephone number and/or website where they can obtain event-focused information. Realistically, employers will not be able to divulge sensitive details through these channels as a crisis is unfolding. And, all “public” information such as this should be carefully vetted before it’s released. However, reassurance from a high-ranking company official through a recorded inbound hotline message can ease tensions and dispel irrational action.
Recognize the importance of inter-company relationships. Employees often spend more time with each other than they do their real families. After critical events (particularly if employees have been dispersed or evacuated), tensions and fears can grow around the welfare of co-workers. Automated notification services may also play a vital role here as some have the capability to limit notifications from managers to direct-reports only—useful for more team-oriented interactions. Frequent communications by senior management to the organization as a whole will also serve to ease concerns.
In the business resiliency world, a great deal of time and attention is spent assessing risks and developing mitigation strategies. However, we can’t forget the emotional elements of family and friends who may be impacted by a disaster. The bottom line: if an employee feels prepared, safe and secure, he is better able to cope with a crisis at work.