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Small Business

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The best ways to support your workers through a disaster

This story is part of the Chase for Business Guide to Disaster Resilience, an original series aimed at helping business owners plan for and bounce back from disasters. It is brought to you by Chase Business Banking.

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Your employees are your lifeblood. And you likely feel a responsibility toward their well-being beyond the workplace.

When a disaster such as a fire, earthquake, hurricane or tornado hits, the magnitude of your employees' needs may be logistically and financially daunting. They may have lost homes, or family members. They may lack electricity or running water, and could be struggling with anxiety, or grief.

Meanwhile, your ability to help may be constrained by the size of your business. "The smaller your business, the tougher it is to help, even just because of purely practical stuff," says John Adama, who runs disaster preparedness site ThePrepared.com. "If 10 people in your workforce need to take two weeks off to fix whatever it is they need to fix, that's a lot harder when it's 50 percent of your workforce."

The good news is that even without the resources of a larger firm, you'll be able to provide the most critical kinds of help. Some of the best ways to support your workers don't demand additional personnel, or large expenses. Just make sure your post-disaster employee support plan covers three key areas:

1. Provide continuous updates

After a disaster, both you and your employees will be facing uncertainty. Even if you know all your workers are physically okay, you may not know about their housing situations or family members. As for your employees, they may be wondering how your business was affected, and whether they even still have jobs.

Make sure your communication plan will reach everyone—company email, web postings, texts, phone calls and social media updates are all options. "A mix of new and traditional technologies is often recommended in case the emergency event knocks out power or causes internet slowdowns," says Eric Cormier, a senior human resources specialist with HR services firm Insperity. No matter how tech-savvy your workers may be, it never hurts to have a good old-fashioned phone tree at the ready.

Whatever your preferred form of communication, be sure it answers the following questions:

  • When will the office be open?
  • How often do workers need to check in?
  • Is your building safe or are parts of it closed, and has the way people park or travel to work changed?

2. Keep cash flowing

After a disaster, businesses often face temporary cash flow constraints. For example, a study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute found that the week after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, in 2017, the cash balances of small businesses in metropolitan Houston and Miami declined by nearly eight percent. Yet, your employees need their paycheck more than ever, forcing you to get creative with your budget. You might need to dip into performance compensation, or holiday bonuses, for example. Or offer some employees incentives for charitable giving.

"I've seen situations where an employer has to say to people, 'Hey, can we defer this by a week and give you a five percent bonus when we do pay?'" Adama says.

Keep in mind that the gift of time can be powerful, too. Your workers may need to spend some hours of the weekday rebuilding their lives—managing insurance matters, for example, or caring for kids or elderly relatives who may be out of school or displaced from their home. Allow employees to work from home if needed, or arrange a flexible schedule to free up some business hours. That will not only help alleviate stress, but will help get them back on their feet faster.

3. Connect with broader help

Chances are, outside organizations have greater financial muscle when it comes to offering assistance. But your workers may be too overwhelmed to reach out on their own. Prepare a list of contacts that can help with a variety of needs, including the American Red Cross and United Way, religious organizations such as Catholic Charities and the Baptist Global Response, and local hospitals and nonprofits.

Also, don't neglect internal resources: One study found that assisting others in distress helps people manage their own negative feelings and can even decrease depression. So you may want to tap those who were lucky to come through the disaster unscathed and are itching to give back to their friends and community. Find a point person who can coordinate donations, organize a blood drive, or even just offer to cook or do laundry. You'll probably want to lend a hand, too: after all, the faster your employees recover, the more likely your business will survive—and even thrive.

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