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Nearly 30 percent (29.8 percent) of respondents to a recent Deloitte Advisory poll believe that employees may be the most overlooked stakeholder when their organization is dealing with a crisis. As crises become a more frequent occurrence, companies need to acknowledge that maximizing the potential resources of their employees can have a significant impact on their ability to anticipate, prepare for and respond to an incident.

"When a crisis arises in an organization, it can be extremely chaotic. Responding to the crisis and coordinating with regulators, law enforcement and customers is imperative but leadership must also have a plan to inform and utilize employees," said Rhoda Woo, principal in Deloitte Advisory strategic risk services, Deloitte & Touche LLP, and national leader for crisis management solutions. "A good crisis response plan should include employees: communicating to them as well as addressing their involvement and interactions during and after an incident. Employees are a valuable asset to an organization, particularly in dealing with customers, generating goodwill, and aiding the company in the overall recovery process."

From natural disasters to terror threats, understanding the psychology of human behaviour in response to such incidents is important and should be factored into crisis contingency planning. Organizations should proactively take steps to outline employees' roles, responsibilities and the critical part they play in successful crisis management, as well as provide accurate, up-to-date and authoritative information during the crisis. Woo continues, "Employees need to be recognized and informed in a reasonable timeframe during a crisis, but companies also need to consider human factors. There may be instances where employees may not be willing or able to help."

A 2015 study, ‘Willing and able: Building a crisis resilient workforce,’ published by Deloitte UK in partnership with Public Health England and King's College London, revealed that it is not about how able people are to work in a crisis, but how willing they are to work when faced with a significant threat during a major crisis. The most startling figure is that under certain scenarios, 50 percent of staff may be unwilling to return to work.

So how can an organization better utilize employees during a crisis?

1. Build a culture of trust and confidence to set the solid foundation required to maintain an honest and open relationship between employees and the organization. Having a culture that promotes transparency allows employees to escalate issues and encourages strong communication.

2. Adopt an inclusive approach to planning. Ensure employees understand how their roles fit into the organization's response procedure through training and incident simulation exercises. Inform and prepare employees before the crisis occurs and outline such in the organization's crisis playbook.

3. Challenge assumptions about availability. If a contingency plan relies on employees showing up to work, understand the types of crises in which they are likely or unlikely to report to the office.

4. Keep employees informed during a crisis. Communicate accurate information early and often to best manage misperceptions and misinformation. Give authoritative direction on the risks involved, the impact on the company and the staff and how to move forward.

5. Utilize employees as sensors to prevent and anticipate further crises. Employees can be an asset to executives in early identification and escalation of potential crises. Leverage employees as receivers of information, too, and set up a process for collecting and sharing new intelligence.

6. Provide continuing support and demonstrate that the organization is empathetic to the situation. If remote access is part of the contingency plan, make sure that employees are taking home the necessary equipment each day. Consider employees needs for medical, psychological and logistical support when it comes to returning to the workplace and build those elements into the response plan.

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