In this episode, you’ll learn 4 strategies to help you communicate with your employees about the omicron variant, despite widespread “pandemic fatigue.”
Here we go again! Omicron’s here. If you’re communicating with employees about omicron here are four strategies to support your communication.
Hi everybody. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners, an independent health-equity focused education and communication consultancy. If your organization needs expert help on any topic in this series, visit healthcommunicationpartners.com.
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The scientific community knew there would be variants to COVID-19, but not much is known about this one yet. So people are watching and waiting. In the meantime, Omicron has had an impact on travel, global markets, and employers. New York City, for example, recently required all private employers to mandate their workers get COVID vaccinations as part of a “pre-emptive strike” according to the New York Times. With the Great resignation, it’s clear that employers also want to protect their people.
Employers are having to communicate with employees about health topics, quite a lot over the last 20 months. But before then, few people had reason to be aware of health communication as a specialized skill, or as a field of study. But it exists because when health professionals communicate about health topics with patients or the public, it’s often a complex endeavor. COVID-19 has made communication about health topics more complicated, in multiple ways. And like many health professionals, employers are communicating about health topics.
Omicron comes at a time when we are collectively done with all this! That feeling has a name: “pandemic fatigue.”
People worldwide are suffering from “pandemic fatigue,” and it is another communication challenge.
If you had to guess what “pandemic fatigue” means, you probably wouldn’t be far off. The WHO Regional office for Europe calls pandemic fatigue “distress as a reaction to sustained and unresolved adversity.” It’s associated with a decline in how vigilant we each are regarding protective behaviors and staying informed about covid. So as an employer communicating with employees about omicron, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing what you can so your message gets through any pandemic fatigue.
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The WHO Europe office released a framework. It’s designed to help local and national governments and decision makers to manage pandemic fatigue. And I think its advice may be helpful for anyone in a leadership position, including any employers who need to communicate with their employees.
The framework proposes four key strategies, and I’ll share them along with some tips on how you might use them.
“Understand people.” I like that as a starting place. Because when we’re thinking about communication, often the topic is front of mind. That’s what we’re worried about, and how we’re gonnag et it out there fast enough. But they’re starting by reminding us: understand people. How can you do this? you could ask your employees what their questions and concerns are and listen to what they say. When it’s appropriate cite any mandatory workplace safety rules and the latest Covid information from the CDC & other vetted sources.
“Engage people as part of the solution.” the WHO continues: “Find ways to meaningfully involve individuals and communities at every level.” How could you do this? you could collect and prioritize people’s questions in your communication, whatever people actually ask you about. When possible, use the actual words and phrases that your employees use. Put the questions most often asked near the top of whatever you’re sharing—whether or not you think they should be the most important questions.
“Allow people to live their lives, but reduce risk.”: how could you do this in your communication? Keep it as short as it can be! Let’s start there. Also, make sure written materials you share are accompanied by images. Not just pretty pictures, but meaningful graphics that help you say what you need to say and tell your story.
“Acknowledge and address hardship.” They continue, “Find ways to recognize and alleviate the profound impact the pandemic has had on their lives.” How do you do that in your communication? I’ll suggest that you start by acknowledging pandemic fatigue might be the case for some of them. And then go ahead and repeat yourself. That’s right, communicate what you have to say multiple times. Why? Pandemic fatigue can affect how your message is interpreted, first of all. How? Well, research shows our emotional and physical state has an impact on the sense we make of what we see, read, or hear. For example, you may remember a time when you were worn out, checked out, or spaced out and trying to read something. It might not have gone too well! Now, I wouldn’t send the same message twice, but lead with the key takeaways and reinforce your main message. Sending another correspondence at a later time also gives people another chance to read or view it–when they could potentially be in a different emotional state. The repetition also increases the chances your message will be noticed! Which of course is another danger, or communication challenge, of pandemic fatigue. We are done with this! it’s tough to pay attention to anybody’s email messages.
Fortunately, employers are trusted messengers. According to A worldwide public relations study in 2019 of people’s trust in institutions, people trust their employers more than any other institution. The WHO framework also identifies five principles that strengthen trust. So I’ll go ahead and offer them to you now as a little bit of inspiration:
These are five cross-cutting principles that they found strengthen trust. So consider these when you’re communicating.
Finally, the framework also gives 10 suggested actions. I’m not going to read them all to you but there were a few that leaped out to me as potentially helpful for communication. One of them is to “be clear, precise and predictable.” That’s good advice. Another is for “targeted communication to specific groups.” So if you are talking to a large number of employees, it might make sense to go ahead and segment them so you can send certain messages that are going to be appropriate for certain groups. And perhaps my favorite, “Appeal to people rather than blame, scare or threaten them. Recognize that everyone is contributing.” I like that. “Recognize that everyone is contributing.” We’re all trying to stay healthy the best way we know how. Keeping that in mind can help you when you’re communicating. Especially if you’ve gotta communicate with people who have different ideas about vaccines than you do.
This is a chance for employers to show your activity is rooted in science and in employees’ best interests. If you want more guidance on this and other internal communications, including how communication relates to DEI, contact me, contact me at health communication partners.com. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. Music and audio engineering by Joe Liebel.