Employers have a special responsibility to protect both their employees and customers during the pandemic, but communicating the new compliance obligations to the business – and then enforcing them – can be hard. Despite this, carefully considered communication about the new rules can significantly increase both goodwill and compliance with the new regimes. Here are four ways to do it.
Tie the New Rules to Corporate Values
Most larger companies have created a corporate values statement. Values tend to be similar across all industries. They usually include some variation of “integrity,” “ethical behavior,” and “respect.” When you roll out the new rules (or reinforce them if they have already been released), be sure to tie the rules to living your corporate values, instead of simply issuing mandates.
For instance, if you have a mask requirement, communicate that the company has instated it because it is committed to living its value of respect. Note that the mask mandate has been instituted to embody respecting “our fellow employees and each of the customers, without whom we wouldn’t be in business.” Focus on the needs of both the employees and the customers, not just one or the other.
Consider tying personal responsibility to live the corporate values to the new initiatives. You can say that the company appreciates the integrity of all of its staff, and by protecting ourselves and each other, we collectively live the value of integrity.
Give Real Life Examples
Two of the companies we work at in Spark Compliance Consulting have asked for volunteers to share their stories of vulnerability to COVID. In both cases, they found people who agreed to discuss their situations. One employee, who had survived cancer, volunteered to share her story in a communication that went out company-wide. Another employee volunteered to share that her daughter struggles with asthma, and was therefore at greater risk if she were to contract the disease. By giving a face to risk, it becomes more tangible. It is easier for people to want to follow the rules if the rules protect individuals instead of a faceless sea of unknown people.
Recently a picture of a young, healthy-looking woman made the rounds on social media. She was photographed going into a store in the early-senior/special risk hours wearing a t-shirt that said, “I am higher-risk, please be kind.” It was a stark reminder that risk isn’t always obvious. By reminding employees that risk isn’t necessarily visible, they can become more aware that non-compliant behavior may have devastating consequences.
Respond to Rule-Breakers Swiftly
Breaking simple rules like mask-wearing can quickly become widespread when the mandates aren’t enforced. I went into a hardware store recently and I noticed one employee who had his mask around his chin. By the time I left, I saw him talking with three other employees, all of whom had moved their masks off their mouths and noses.
If someone refuses to follow the rules, the violation must be responded to quickly. Inform managers of their obligation to enforce the new standards, and offer support from the compliance team and management. If possible, ensure that the C-suite and other executives are truly behind the health-related initiatives, and ask them to communicate that commitment clearly throughout the company. Unenforced rules undermine the compliance department and morale.
Pre-emptively Communicate about Retaliation
New kinds of retaliation are likely in this new environment. If someone has recently had COVID, they may feel ostracized or shunned by their co-workers if the group is fearful of contracting the disease. If someone is working from home while trying to manage the education of several young children who are remote-learning, that person may feel threatened if they aren’t available all the hours that they used to be. If someone has a sick spouse or elderly parent living with them, the person may not feel safe joining in-person meetings or attending social gatherings with co-workers. All of this can lead to anger, resentment, disengagement, and complaints of retaliation.
Create a communication plan to discuss retaliation and proper behavior toward co-workers in difficult situations. Give examples of how to behave when confronted with the new challenges that COVID brings. Train managers to be aware of retaliatory behavior and preventing it in themselves and in their teams. By pre-emptively communicating about appropriate responses to challenging situations, you’ll better equip the workforce to act in accordance with the company’s values.
As workplaces re-calibrate to deal with the reality of the pandemic, new communication strategies are required to ensure compliance with the new rules. By communicating effectively, you increase the likelihood of compliance both with new mandates, as well as the company’s values.