QUESTION: My firm is trying to come up with a culture of supporting employees. What approach would you recommend?
In the post-election violence aftermath in 2007/2008 in Kenya, not only did many businesses suffer a great deal, but many people died, while others were internally displaced.
Some have argued that had we all taken greater care to ensure that we had in place robust conflict resolution mechanisms, those tragic events might have been avoided. The lessons learned then would be key to helping us deal with any future challenges.
In the case of your company what emergencies have you had in the past and what lessons have you learned in that time? You must ensure that you have not wasted any past crises and one way of preparing yourself is to study the past responses, correct any mistakes and improve on things that worked for you.
Each industry must develop strategies that are best suited to the nature of the business. As you plan to assist the staff to respond to emergencies, which experts are there, and are there government guidelines in place? If you are, for example, in the gas and petroleum industry, to what extent are you adhering to the health and safety standards in place?
As you prepare your staff, to what extent do they understand the safety measures you have in place, and how were they involved in the development of the strategies? How often are they involved in the fire safety drills you have in your factory, and do you have fire marshals in place?
During the HIV/Aids pandemic response in Kenya in the early days, companies found it useful to train certain volunteers as champions to whom staff members could consult in the event of the need for advice.
Would you consider this approach in the case of your company? If so, training a small group of trainers who could train other staff members might be the way to go for you.
As you can see, there is no single strategy that works for all companies all the time and indeed the nature of the emergencies that you may have to deal with will be different from time to time and will range from those that you have little or no direct control over, like climate events, to others that you have direct control over such as following proper infection control protocols in a hospital theatre, or even safety protocols in a manufacturing company.
In all instances, you must understand the nature of the challenges to be anticipated and that is to an extent industry-specific, study the available prevention strategies, involve your staff in the development of the strategies, and ensure that all staff understand their role in both the prevention and mitigation of the consequences of such events.
Many well-designed responses however fail to deliver the intended results because of a poorly motivated workforce.
Dr Njenga is a psychiatrist and mental health consultant who has authored several scientific papers and books