Saturday, May 30, 2015

What not to tell your employees during a weather emergency

Everybody has stories about last week's devastating floods, so here's one worth sharing. This is an actual text message that a local employer sent out to staff via an alert system Tuesday morning:
I'm aware that many of you are having weather related issues and it's affecting your ability to get to work on time. The most critical thing is your safety. If you can make it safely, please come to work. I would expect late arrivals for many. Otherwise I understand if you need an unscheduled vacation day.
I am obviously not going to identify the employer who sent this text or reveal how I learned about it. I just felt that this utterly tone-deaf message was worth sharing as an example of how not to manage one's employees in the event of a crisis.

Let's recap: Houston just experienced its most significant weather event since Hurricane Ike, with some parts of the city receiving over ten inches of rain in a matter of a few hours. Streets and freeways are flooded. METRO has suspended public transportation services, and HISD and other school districts have cancelled classes. Local elected officials have urged people to stay home.

Yet the folks who work for this particular employer are being told that they either need to show up to work or use a vacation day, i.e., one of those relatively scarce days that people like to use for, well, actual vacations.

Maybe this particular employer does not have the means to compensate absences caused by bad weather. And it is worth noting that at least these employees will be paid, even if it's through vacation time; there are a lot of hourly-wage workers who couldn't make it into work last Tuesday and won't receive any wages at all for that day.

But all that misses the point, which is the astonishing insensitivity of this message. Whomever wrote it not only seemed to have no empathy towards the plight of his or her employees (boilerplate blather about "safety" aside), but even managed to make the situation about him or herself: "I would expect" people to arrive late; "I understand" if people have to take a vacation day because the kids are at home, the buses aren't running and the mayor told people to stay off the streets.

And that's just for the folks who are otherwise safe at home. Imagine if you were standing in foot-deep water inside your home, or had to abandon your car in high water, and you received that text!

Instead of sending out such an uncompassionate message, why not at least acknowledge the situation at hand (flooded freeways, kids home from school, no local or park-and-ride buses) and express hope that nobody suffered any loss? Why not suggest that people try to work from home, if they're able to do so? And why mention anything about using an "unscheduled vacation day" at all? Just say something like "we will determine how to address your timesheet tomorrow" and leave it there.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of the fact that just because somebody is in a management position doesn't necessarily mean that they know how to "manage."

Oh, and one more thing about this text: it was sent at 7:55 in the morning.

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