Ensuring Your Critical Employees Will Be There When You Need Them

I just finished reading a very nice article in the current (Spring 2011) issue of the Disaster Recovery Journal (www.drj.com).  Mr. Frank Lady wrote an article titled “Addressing the “Critical Employee” Quandary”.  In the article, Mr. Lady addresses the identification of “critical” employees in our business continuity plans.  A key point he makes in the article is we as planners dealing with any other critical resource, we must plan for the fact that not all of our critical resources (employees) will be readily available when they are needed.  While the article is very informative I wanted to offer another tactic for consideration to this important issue.  And it’s a tactic that while simple is often overlooked.

Not to oversimplify our practice, but our generic approach to business continuity is to recognize the risk, mitigate as much of the risk as you can, and then plan for the rest.  So, if we identify critical (aka essential) employees in our planning process, and furthermore recognize the risk that some (maybe most?) won’t respond when needed, what can we do proactively to mitigate the risk and thereby be assured we’ll have a greater than average chance of having our critical employees ready and available when we need them?

As they say, “back in the day” there used to be a sense of dedication between employees and employers.  Remember when companies said “our employees are our greatest asset” and they really meant it?  Back in the day, employers could reasonably expect their employees to be there when they needed them.  Today, it’s questionable to what degree that dedication still exists.  We saw this play out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when several employees of the New Orleans Police Department abandoned their jobs.  Concern over their family’s safety or “that their families needed them” was almost exclusively cited as the reason.

The following are a few examples of actions you can take proactively to ensure your employees will be there when you need them.

Establish a policy that drives readiness – Your company may have a policy that mandates business continuity at work.  But does that policy also define who is considered a critical (essential) employee and that they are expected to maintain their own readiness, including at home?  Policy statements ensure that employees know what is expected of them in terms of performance, and provide guidelines to help the organization achieve its goals.

Issues that can be positivelysupported by a policy include:

  • Financial issues, including payroll and timekeeping as well as emergency cash disbursement in the event local banks are closed and ATMs are not operable.  Additionally, be prepared to help your employees as they may need to work through the disaster assistance maze.  This may include insurance, loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA), assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or tax issues with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Perhaps you could offer pre-disaster workshops or seminars on these available opportunities.  You might also want to distribute appropriate printed materials from these agencies.   
  • Reporting for duty, with clear guidance on how notifications will be made when a disaster occurs.  In addition the policy may address time allowed to prepare/secure the employees home pre-event or repair the home post-event.
  • Mandatory cancellation of all vacations and leaves, as well as the granting of special leave.
  • Employee’s special needs, such as those who are primary caregivers, or those where both parents are considered critical or essential employees.

Train them to be ready – You can’t reasonably expect your employees to respond if they, and their families, aren’t prepared themselves.   In order to help get them prepared, offer them training.  Training such as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), how to assemble a family preparedness kit, and Basic First Aid, CPR/AED training can go a long way to ensure your employees and their families will be ready.  Most importantly, encourage the employee to share this knowledge with his/her family to increase their preparedness too.

Shelter in Place is a tactic your employees and their families need to understand.  Is your business prepared to provide sheltering for your employees?  What about their immediate families? 

Develop a support network – While your essential employees are hard at work responding to, and recovering from, your disaster human nature is such that they’ll still be worried about their own families.  In order to help alleviate their concern, have in place a secondary support team that is tasked with checking in regularly with the families of essential employees to make sure they (the family) are OK.  If the family needs something, the support team can assist the family in getting what is needed.  Make sure the status of each “welfare check” is communicated back to the employee in a timely fashion.

The examples I’ve referenced above are not meant to be all inclusive.  Quite honestly, some of these may simply not fit your business (culture).  However, these examples are meant to get you thinking about what you and your business can do proactively to help your critical (essential) employees become better prepared at home so that when you need them, they are ready to make the sacrifice of leaving their family, and be there for you.

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