Communication as a tool for engagement in times of crisis


Improve the motivation and productivity of your teams through communication


Events as destabilizing as a pandemic cause a lot of anxiety among employees. Is the company strong enough to weather a downturn? Will I be just as productive with this change? Will I lose my job? In fact, this is the sort of uncertainty that the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the global financial crisis of 2008 must have triggered.

The unknown frightens us and leads to uncertainty. It negatively affects the morale of the troops and, by the same token, productivity. How CEOs communicate with employees in times of crisis has a direct effect on the performance of companies. Whether it is a question of managing a health or financial crisis, or a crisis linked to a major organizational change, the real job of a CEO is first and foremost to reassure employees and create conditions that are conducive to engagement. Find out how, through communication, a chief executive officer manages to stay the course in turbulent times.


Act quickly


As soon as a crisis arises, it is important to act early so as not to leave doubt hanging in the air for too long. If you lack all the information or are not yet in a position to assess the extent of the impact on the company, do not claim otherwise. It is better to admit it and tell your employees that you will keep them posted as soon as you know more. They will appreciate your honesty and humility, which will give them confidence from the outset.

Refraining from making comments will only set off the “rumour mill.” No one is comfortable with silence, which is often quickly filled with hearsay. You need to communicate quickly to reassure them and show that you have the situation under control.


Plan for frequent communication


To prevent the rumour mill from getting out of control, you also need to communicate frequently with your employees. Consequently, even before you develop the content of the messages to send out, determine the frequency of your communications.

Experts recommend brief, periodic meetings. Initially, you could hold weekly team meetings to share information and provide updates on projects or challenges. In a teleworking environment, it is even more important to keep in touch to get a sense of the overall mood.

Also plan individual meetings with each of your employees. If you lead a large workforce, hold these meetings with each of your managers, who will have already met face-to-face with their team members to hear their concerns. In addition to encouraging frank discussions, this approach will help address topics that may not have been discussed in a group setting.


Encourage without creating false hopes


Communicating in a time of crisis also means finding the right words to inspire hope without creating illusions. Transparency is essential at all times. If business is going badly, do not try to convince people that everything is fine. Employees are not easily fooled; they will see your bluff, no matter how well-intentioned it is. Instead of reassuring them, your words will make them fear the worst. They will have the impression that you are lying to them or are totally disconnected from reality.

Intentions versus interpretations

Did you know that the main challenge in communication involves managing interpretations? Just because something is said or information is shared does not mean it is well conveyed.

Always put yourself in other people’s shoes and ask yourself whether your intentions will be perceived favourably or negatively. Try to anticipate reactions and take them into account in your communications.

For example, you reward your employees with a gourmet dinner. You feel this is a well-deserved reward because they have worked extra hard to deliver a project on time, despite the fact you have reduced their hours.

Your intentions are good, but how will your employees interpret the gesture?

  • That’s nice. My boss is grateful and showing gratitude.
  • That’s troubling. Isn’t this an irresponsible expense in this time of slowdown?
  • That’s frustrating. I don’t need a gourmet lunch. I need a full workweek.


No doubt if you had explained that you are used to bartering with one of your friends who is a caterer, that this meal is an exchange of services and you wanted your employees to benefit from it, no one would have found your gesture troubling or frustrating.

Leverage the five key qualities of a communicator


To communicate with employees in times of uncertainty, the chief executive officer must be:

  1. Honest: No point in trying to sugar-coat the current situation; instead, recognize that the situation is difficult and likely to remain so in the coming months. Explain what your short-term strategy will be.
  2. Empathetic: Let them know that you understand how stressful the situation is. Encourage them to share their concerns with you or their manager.
  3. Reassuring: Point out all the factors that work in your favour, such as prudent financial management, a balanced cash flow, your strong market position, negotiations with major potential clients, and so on.
  4. Motivating: Discuss the challenges you managed to tackle together in the past. Remind them how much you have achieved as a team through each person’s perseverance and hard work. Tell them you have the right people in place and are well positioned to bounce back.
  5. Grateful: Show your confidence in each person’s talents, which are essential to the company’s success when business picks up again. Thank them for their resilience, their commitment and all they do for your clients.


Keep the communication channels open


Communicating a vision or decision should lead employees to understand, accept, embrace and commit to implementing it each day. To achieve convincing results, communication must take place in three stages:

  1. Telling: We need to inform and explain our decisions to help employees understand the motivations behind them.
  2. Listening: It is essential to get feedback by every possible means. This can take the form of Q&A sessions with employees. Depending on the context or work environment, you may also consider a more structured survey with the answers anonymized.
  3. Dialogue: Based on this exchange, you should build consensus and find acceptable compromises.


Communication is a two-way street (telling - listening) that encourages the free flow of ideas (dialogue) between people. When properly managed, this process ensures productive collaborations and creates a stimulating work environment characterized by a spirit of openness.

To sum it up, how CEOs communicate with employees impacts the employees’ ability to be engaged, so that they can take ownership of the company’s projects and excel. Investing in internal communications is a choice that pays off in the long term and can be measured with various key performance indicators. Talk to PIXCELL, a headhunting agency in Montreal, who can guide you in the right direction.

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