Guest author: Ayme Zemke,

2020 has delivered a health crisis, an economic crisis and a social justice crisis.


This unprecedented combination of crises and the widespread severity is something even the most senior crisis management professionals have never encountered in their careers. And something even the best crisis management preparedness plans could not have anticipated.

In the last six months, how and where businesses operate has radically shifted, creating significant changes and disruption to business continuity, organizational culture and the employee experience. Maintaining a strong workplace culture and connections with employees despite these challenges is essential as organizations navigate through the pandemic.

Organizations must ask themselves what they are doing to nurture and strengthen their crucial relationships with employees right now? And what employee-focused crisis management strategies are they building now to be a better business on the other side of the pandemic?


Listen to Learn

Employee’s needs and expectations have shifted during the crisis response phase, and business strategies must adapt and evolve accordingly. Employees continue experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety as their everyday life continues to be disrupted. Communication tools, including surveys, feedback channels and social media channels, provide valuable, direct listening and engagement opportunities. The insights learned guide the organization to better meet people where they’re at today and make targeted adjustments for the future.

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Seek Employee Input

Proactively seeking employee input, listening to their feedback, and incorporating the data and insights into future crisis plans is a critical strategy during this challenging time. Workplaces built on relationships, interaction and problem-solving help people thrive. Listening develops trust between leadership and employees and provides crucial perspective and insights to guide what’s needed.

Traditional methods for assessing workplace culture like bi-annual employee engagement studies alone aren’t enough for keeping a real-time pulse on the health of organizational culture during times of rapid change. Organizations must integrate additional assessment methods into their internal communication strategies and review them regularly. Even if leaders are unable to act on all feedback, the simple gesture of asking for and acknowledging input is valuable.

Checking in with employees through pulse surveys is an important way to monitor their engagement, identify gaps and keep connections and culture strong. Pulse surveys provide valuable insights about how employees are managing through waves of change and what is needed to support them. They can quickly indicate how employees are feeling, identify what’s working and what’s not, and uncover ideas to support the business and people. When used consistently — every two weeks is optimal — pulse surveys can help teams stay focused on delivering strategic priorities, despite working in ways that are new to many people.

Pulse surveys should be short and easy to complete. Present questions in a multiple-choice or scaled format with minimal open-ended questions. This makes data analysis fast and allows for trend monitoring. The faster leaders discover insights, the faster they can act. Be sure to connect employee input to actions whenever possible and regularly share key findings to show employees their input is heard and valued. This kind of transparency will encourage continued participation. The most effective pulse surveys cover five key areas: employee well-being, leadership, communication, resources and culture.

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Learn and Respond

Crises take a considerable emotional toll on people. Acknowledging this toll and demonstrating empathy in words, tone and actions will strengthen emotional connections and trust. It is especially important for leaders to be present and engaged during this time, consistently sharing updates, checking in with teams and authentically living organizational values.

Insights learned from employee surveys provide important guidance for how to support and strengthen the culture and identify which resources will best empower employees – today and into the future. However, studies show that only half of employees feel their organization considers their feedback when making business decisions and only a third of employers are actively analyzing the key drivers of engagement in their organization. Employers who understand the value of assessing the culture and proactively communicating its efforts and actions back to employees are the ones most likely to succeed long-term.

Every crisis – no matter how difficult – is an opportunity for growth. Employees must be confident the organization has learned from past events and is better positioned and prepared to manage future events. Consistently communicating about lessons learned and the resulting changes, and sharing details about the path forward demonstrates organizational growth and leadership. Clear actions, supported by strong communication, instills confidence and builds trust. And that’s the foundation on which to build better businesses.

Ayme Zemke, SVP, leads Beehive Client Service and Crisis Communication. She has nearly twenty-four years of strategic communication experience at Twin Cities PR agencies and is a Certified Crisis Communications Leader. She has the unique gift of seeing and understanding people’s needs and making meaningful connections that build trust. Beehive Strategic Communication – a purpose-driven strategic communication firm specializes in crisis and issues management and other services.