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In Deep Water – advice to employers on handling flooding and other emergencies

In Deep Water – advice to employers on handling flooding and other emergencies
Jane Coope
HR advice, Staff development
Find out more about Jane Coope

In this article you’ll learn

  • How to prepare your business for emergencies
  • How to respond to a business emergency
  • What to do in the aftermath of an emergency

Yorkshire has witnessed first-hand the devastating impact flooding can have.

As employers, you may have experienced flooding at your premises or had staff members who have had their homes affected or their journey to work disrupted. It is at times such as this that the commitment staff feel to their employers is really tested. So what can you as an employer do to minimise the impact to your business and best support your staff?

Street-Flooded

The impact of flooding can be massive

Preparation

Disaster recovery planning isn’t just something large corporate organisations should be concerned with. You can think ahead to how your business might cope if faced with flooding, heavy snowfall, fire or a similar dramatic event.              

Representatives from all parts of the business can contribute to identifying potential risks and prioritising according to how likely they are to occur and what the level of impact would be. You can then agree WHO will do WHAT WHEN and HOW they will go about it. Areas to cover may include:

  • Who will liaise with emergency services, insurers, clients, contractors? Will they be able to access the necessary contact details and policy numbers?
  • Is data backed up effectively and accessible from off site?
  • How could a communications cascade work to quickly and easily get key messages out within the team and externally through social media channels?
  • What would be needed for the business to operate from temporary premises/home?

These decisions can be noted down and shared with any new staff as part of their induction. The plan should be kept under review and looked at particularly if you have a move in premises or change to the way the business operates.

Staff contracts and policies are another area where thinking ahead could be beneficial in an emergency situation. Consider having a lay off clause which sets out how staff can be asked not to come into work for up to four weeks. An adverse weather policy gives you the opportunity to set out that staff should make every effort to attend without taking unnecessary risks, and, a summary of what support (paid or not) staff can expect if they have to deal with family emergencies would be prudent to have in place.

Documentation-forms

Are your staff contracts prepared for an emergency situation?

Response

If the worse does happen then your preparation moves into action. The safety of your team should be paramount in all that you do and you may need to be firm with them about not putting themselves at risk.

Clear communications are key – make sure there is only one version of the truth that staff follow. So when you update your team, always mention when the next update will be issued. A simple step but one which avoids the rumour mill going into overdrive and unnecessary worry being caused.

Be consistent, fair and measured in your response to staff requests to be late in to work or absent altogether because of road conditions, public transport disruption school closures and similar unforeseen events. You have to give staff a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with these emergency situations but what this amounts to and whether you allow options such as taking holiday, working from home or paying for the period of absence are at your discretion. Having a thought through policy in place in advance avoids you making hasty decisions and helps manage staff expectations.

Your employment contract should include a flexibility clause that enables you to require staff to undertake duties other than their usual ones. Be careful about insisting however, particularly if staff aren’t properly trained or there may be health and safety concerns. Staff may be willing to literally ‘muck in’ and encouraging volunteers rather than press ganging your team is likely to give the best outcome.

Flooding-Clearup

Would you need your staff to help out?

Aftermath

So the office, shop or warehouse has reopened and you can just breathe a sigh of relief. Well no, there are two key areas to remember. One is to review your disaster recovery plan whilst everything is fresh in your mind. What worked well? What caused particular concern or confusion and how could this have been handled better? Whilst thanking everyone for contributing to getting your business on track again, why not ask them for their feedback?

Feedback-form

Feedback could help you prepare for the future

The second area is much longer term. You may have staff who are going to be unable to return to their homes for many months. After the initial flurry of activity an emergency brings, staff may become upset as they face up to ‘what could have happened’ scenarios and practical and financial realities. Emotional trauma is commonplace and staff may experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. Having an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a very cost effective way you can provide support and help them balance their work and home commitments. EAP’s give your staff confidential access to 24 hour advice on finance, benefits, wellbeing etc and many schemes include professional counselling. You can also be flexible about working patterns to enable staff to undertake the various appointments with loss adjustors, their bank and contractors that they may well need. The key is to ask what would best support the individual and to try and accommodate all reasonable adjustments you can make.

And a final thought – as the business owner, you will have many people looking to you for decisions and support. Make sure that you have in place your own support network whether that be family, friends, a trusted business advisor or a network of fellow business owners. This will help you sustain your resilience at what may well be the most challenging time your business ever faces.

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Summary

HR expert Jane Coope talks about how you can prepare, respond and recover from an emergency in your business.