Steve’s Blog: “Now, Wash Your Hands!”

Steve Herbert considers the value of simple and consistent top-down communications in the current crisis (and beyond) for Human Resources professionals.

Over the coming weeks it seems likely that many more of us will turn to social-media channels as a way of staying up-to-date with current issues, and also to express our feelings and emotions in what are highly challenging and unusual circumstances.

When doing so we might, just occasionally, see some posts that will encourage us to think more deeply about our everyday routines and messaging practices.  This was certainly the case for me last week when the following comment caught my eye:

“A gastroenterologist we know tells us that hospital admissions due to gastroenteritis have fallen through the floor.  It seems people just needed to wash their hands more often.”

 Now I don’t personally follow the person that posted this, and have no idea if this is a genuine national trend or just an isolated incident.  But the Tweet does represent a sensible diagnosis of the available evidence.  It also suggests that the Government’s hand-washing message has been understood and actioned by the UK population.

This in turn set me thinking about how to communicate well with any audience, be that an entire nation or just the workforce of any one organisation.  So what can Human Resources professionals learn from the success of the hand-washing message, and how can that learning prove useful given the rather immense immediate challenges of the moment and beyond?


Simplicity & repetition

The key to the success of the “don’t forget to wash your hands” message is that is easily understood.  It represents a simple and practical step that anyone and everyone can take to improve the current situation for the benefit of all.

The other vital component to embedding this change of behaviour into the national consciousness is that old marketing and electioneering staple; repetition.  Government and NHS officials simply took every available opportunity to repeat the mantra on every occasion a microphone was placed in front of them.

Of course washing your hands regularly is neither a complete nor particularly robust answer to the very frightening health challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.  But it’s likely that this very simple behavioural change will have saved lives.  And this is surely evidence enough of the value of really clear communications is the successful delivery of any project.


Embedding your key messages

Likewise many of the routine actions that employers want their employees to take in the current crisis will in themselves be much less than a full solution to the complex challenges so many business are currently facing.

But each and every positive step will help employers to weather the current storm.  This in turn will help organisations to bounce-back to full productivity once the current crisis is over and normal service is resumed.

So I would encourage Human Resources professionals to consider these three important steps in their current communications:

  • Ensure that any messaging is embraced by senior management, and is delivered in a consistent manner from the CEO all the way through the management structure down to the most-junior departmental line manager.
  • Repeat the message at every opportunity and in every communication media available.
  • Make sure that there is little or no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation. So rather than complex and wordy requests, really strive for something that every employee can understand, accept, and easily put into action.


Expected and hidden benefits

The bottom line is that a consistently well delivered message is much more likely to be understood and undertaken by your audience than a more lengthy or nuanced one.  This is of course important given the current circumstances, but will prove equally useful in the delivery of all future communication exercises too.

And don’t forget that embedding any good practice will often provide unintended – but very welcome – additional positive outcomes too.  In the case of washing your hands it appears to be fewer incidents of D&V illnesses.  In the case of workplace communications it might well mean a more cohesive, engaged, and productive workforce.

Given the challenges and uncertainties that we are all facing today, any positives from your messaging – intended or otherwise – are likely to be warmly welcomed by all.

Stay safe (and don’t forget to wash your hands).

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing

Please visit Howden’s new coronavirus hub for the latest information regarding COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision.