In this series from the IABC Trend Watch Committee, communication professionals unpack industry trends for insights that you can take on-the-go.
At a Glance
The increase in natural disasters worldwide has given renewed focus to the impact of climate change and adverse environmental developments on health and well-being. Our roles must expand to ensure meaningful engagement surrounding employees’ health and safety. The alternative: a distracted workforce and reduced productivity.
Trend to Watch
Record-breaking, scorching temperatures have been reported in Southeast Asia, Sahara dust and the increased frequency of hurricanes plague the Caribbean, and a third of Americans cited climate change as a reason to relocate in a recent Forbes Home Survey.
The fact is that climate change and its impact on health and well-being has surfaced as a major factor driving behavioral changes and attitudes:.
- Employees are concerned about their health and well-being as climate change increases health complications from severe heat waves; loss of property from wildfires, floods and other adverse weather events; increasing risk and spread of tropical and mosquito-borne diseases (e.g., dengue, malaria and the recent outbreak of Japanese encephalitis) and their consequences; and, most severely, loss of life during natural disasters. The result: heavy productivity losses and a distracted workforce
- The Forbes Home Survey highlighted that 64% of Americans are willing to relocate in 2022 due to climate change or bad weather. CoreLogic’s Climate Change Catastrophe Report discovered that 14.5 million homes were impacted by natural disasters in 2021. In some states, people have already relocated due to wildfires. What are the business continuity implications for the existing workforce and “brain drain” in communities and countries impacted by natural disasters?
- Companies continue to support the public and employees after natural disasters through their foundations (e.g., Coca-Cola Employee Disaster Relief Fund, Cable & Wireless Charitable Foundation). Is this still sufficient? What more can be done? Climate change is impacting global health, and with that the global workforce. How can and should companies engage this distracted workforce?
What This Means for Communication Professionals
Business communicators are tasked with engaging a scared and distracted workforce before, during and in the aftermath of natural disasters. The need to provide supportive environments to prevent “brain drain” is also a concern for companies operating in locations already heavily affected by climate change, where they may already be experiencing an exodus of employees.
Understanding the needs of the workforce through pulse surveys will be useful for targeting efforts. As a first step, health and safety messages need to be featured more prominently in companywide town halls; newsletters and intranets should offer advice for engineering teams working outside in hotter temperatures; wildfire updates for employees who need to navigate locations prone to wildfires in order to get to the office or who work in rural and remote locations; and signposting for emotional support as employees grapple with multiple stressors and/or post-traumatic stress disorders.
In this instance, being an “employer of choice” requires more than employee assistance programs and reducing one’s carbon footprint. Inclusivity, purpose, care and sustainability are the way forward, especially as companies are increasingly being pressed by their employees to reduce the climate impact of their operations, and work with partners who are like-minded in their resolve to make positive change.
Communicators are integral in creating the balance between supporting employees and maintaining business continuity. They play a significant role in motivating employees during times of stress and uniting teams in the face of crisis events. Employees who feel supported by their employers are more likely to make positive contributions over a longer term.
Effective communication makes good business sense. Mindful communication on the topic of climate change also serves as a strong example of how communicators can help to address a global issue at a local level.
Further Reading and Resources
Shaniek Parks is a member of the IABC Trend Watch Committee. She is a communication consultant working in international health and based in Kingston, Jamaica.