This summer, while most companies are struggling to stay afloat due to recession woes, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is quietly preparing for what could be the final straw for many small and medium businesses – a severe swine flu outbreak.
And this time around, employee communicators will have to deal with much bigger problems than finding a tactful way to explain that the workplace isn’t a daycare center for kids whose schools have closed due to the flu.
According to several news sources, the CDC is predicting that up to 40% of the U.S. population will become infected with swine flu this fall. That’s right, up to 40%.
A recent survey by the Harvard School of Public Health found that three out of five Americans believe that a there will be a widespread swine flu outbreak this fall, and 90% would be willing to avoid shopping malls, restaurants, movie theaters, public transportation, etc., for an extended period of time — up to two weeks — if instructed to do so by public health officials.
That’s bad news for those businesses and their employees.
Even if the swine flu outbreak fails to reach the predicted severity, most companies will have to deal with some level of absenteeism this fall, and some will find themselves having to decentralize their operations, with employees working from home.
My advice to communicators: don’t treat these predictions as hyperbole. Take time now to review your business continuity and crisis communications plans. Reach out to your counterparts in HR and make sure there is a policy in place for swine flu-related call-outs. Set up a phone number that your employees can call into to hear a recorded message about building closures and alternate work locations. Most importantly, let your employees know that the company is taking these preparations seriously.
As they say in the disaster business, the secret to surviving a crisis is to “plan for the worst, and hope for the best.”