Over the last few months, we’ve seen so much fake news and media, all with the same purpose, to invoke fear, or invoke riots and chaos among our society. The toxic combination of fake news and low levels of trust among people has resulted in worrying scenes of people gathering on beaches in very large groups, ignoring social distancing precautions set by the government, and you could easily argue, why wouldn’t they? They no longer know what to believe, and you can’t blame them for it. I myself, am finding it very hard to believe that COVID-19 even exists anymore. This is due to the media and its incontinences and false numbers in reports.
However, research found by Edelman in March 2020, found that after health authorities, employers were most trusted to respond effectively to the pandemic. This is very encouraging, especially as employees being to return to their workplace, it’s never been important that people follow the safety measures and trust the advice that their employer is giving them is correct. The consequences of non-compliance could be detrimental to our health and also to the viability of the business we work for. Just one confirmed case of COVID-19 can lead to the whole staff having to self-isolate, which is far from ideal, and can no longer keep going on.
So, as internal communicators, how do we make sure that the message is understood and trusted against the backdrop of fake news and conspiracy theories? We must create a single source of truth. Many internal communication teams have been doing this since the stay at home order began, creating one place that employees know contains up to date and accurate information. We must identify which channels are the most trusted and make sure that as employees return to their workplace, that they have access to this and it is updated on a regular basis. It is also very important to make sure there is alignment. Managers and leaders need to be aware of the key messages and repeat them, being weary as to not contradict or confuse their staff. They also need to be conscious of sharing external sources that have not yet been fact checked, or responding to questions that they are not yet sure of the right answer.
However, a single source of truth will only work during a situation like the one we are currently in, if the employees trust the communications they receive and have access to. Creating a dedicated website, or choosing a spokesperson is a good idea, but if trust was already suffering inside your business, then that will not change in a day. Building and retaining trust should be the key part in the way we communicate always, not just in these times and times of crisis.
We must also have empathy, as employees are more likely to trust that businesses that are fully prepared for their employees return to work if the communication they receive is correct and verifiable. This means that showing empathy while communicating, and remembering that while we have all lived through this pandemic, our individual experiences from it are very different. Business owners and managers must also acknowledge that people may have different feelings about returning to work. Some people may have concerns about their own health and well-being, while others may not, and some people may be grieving from losing someone they love to the pandemic. Others might be excited and eager to return to work, having spent too much time at home in isolation on their own, and in challenging circumstances. Business owners and managers should share their own experiences and what they found challenging about it with their employees, that way they make themselves more relatable and develop a trustworthy and intimate relationship.
It is also very important to remember to share stories from your first experience back to work with others who are just returning, this will help others begin to visualize what it will be like and trust that the right decisions are being made, and mandatory precautions are in place. Remember to share some of your challenges as well, and what you have learned from going through this process and how you’ve adapted. This will help to ensure that the stories are authentic, and you will be more likely to be trusted among your colleagues. As much as people need to hear from their leaders, they are also more likely to trust the people them know are doing similar roles to theirs, or working in the same environments. In the book “Inside the Nudge Unit” David Halpern talk about the EAST model, which a framework created to help people apply nudge theory. The social element of the model talks about how we are greatly influenced by those around us (Halpern, 2015).
For example, even if we know that wearing a mask is the safer thing to do, if no one else is wearing one, that we are less likely to do it. That is why sharing stories can be a very successful way in encouraging the right behaviors by demonstrating others following good practice. The next few weeks and months to come will be a very important and critical time for businesses as they being to get used to the new reality. Internal communicators have a large role to play in developing and maintaining trust, in order to ensure that employees are not only informed, but are also displaying the right behaviors.
Halpern, D. (2018, February 09). Inside the Nudge Unit: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference – David Halpern (2015). Retrieved July 28, 2020, from https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/resources/books/inside-the-nudge-unit-how-small-changes-can-make-a-big-difference-david-halpern-2015/
Edelman. (2020). Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirus [Pamphlet]. Edelman. Retrieved July 28, 2020, from https://www.edelman.com/sites/g/files/aatuss191/files/2020-03/2020%20Edelman%20Trust%20Barometer%20Brands%20and%20the%20Coronavirus.pdf