Disaster Preparedness, Readiness

The Impact Of Natural Disasters On Your Workforce And How To Prepare

A brief scan of the news on any given morning will turn up reports of climate-related disasters around the world. In 2022 alone, wildfires burned the second-largest area in Europe on record. Extreme heat has shattered records across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Europe and parts of Central Asia. One-in-1,000-year rains have caused severe flooding in Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Illinois and California, and the busiest part of what scientists expect to be an above-average hurricane season still lies ahead.

The impact of disaster is often discussed in the hard costs—the millions of dollars typically needed to recover and rebuild. But disasters also take a toll on communities and workers. As we’ve learned well over the past few years, when employees struggle outside of work, there are ramifications for their companies.

This reality, brought to light over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, creates an opportunity for human resources leaders. By creating a plan to address the threat of disasters before they strike, you can create a stronger, more resilient workforce.


Quantifying The Risk

In 2021, the global safety charity Lloyd’s Register Foundation partnered with Gallup to conduct the "World Risk Poll," a survey of 125,000 people across 121 countries. The goal was to understand everyday risks across different populations around the world. As part of the survey, participants were asked what had caused them or someone they know to experience serious harm. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people who had cited severe weather events increased from 22% to 27%. Weather was one of only two areas to see significant increases over the two-year period. (Interestingly, the other was mental health, another top area of concern for HR leaders.)

When you consider the fact that scientists predict more extreme weather events as a result of climate change, it becomes clear this number is likely to trend even higher. The need to prepare for potential natural disasters becomes all the more pressing.


Climate Risks And Human Resources

Disasters create ripple effects across individuals and the organizations they serve. Broadly speaking, severe weather events can lead to lost productivity, increased absenteeism and higher turnover. When employees lose their homes or evacuate due to threat of damage, it’s hard to come to work. When disasters challenge our financial stability, it’s hard to be productive. While some employees have the means to navigate these situations, many do not.

The value of disaster preparedness can also extend beyond the ability to provide immediate relief. A recent survey found that less than half of Americans (45%) feel connected with others at work. The results of this lack of belonging include lower levels of commitment and engagement, which have direct links to overall well-being and productivity.

These outcomes are tied directly to HR's key performance indicators. They may also factor into a company’s progress on metrics related to the S in ESG, the environmental, social and governance criteria that are becoming an increasing area of focus for organizations across industries and among HR leaders, who bear responsibility for people and culture. Part of the S measures how you are supporting your employees—your most valuable stakeholder—and companies are now expected to extend that support beyond the 9 to 5.


Support In The Wake Of Disaster

The best time to prepare for disasters is before the need arises. (This is especially true as we head into the busiest part of Atlantic hurricane season.) Consider what steps your organization can take to create or refresh a people-focused business continuity plan. This includes evacuation planning, data storage and security, internal crisis communications, organizational recovery and a return-to-work strategy. It’s a multi-step process.

If you are just beginning, start by building a business continuity management team comprised of representatives from key stakeholder groups across your organization, such as IT and operations. This team will bring diverse perspectives to the table regarding disaster preparedness and can play a key role in completing a risk assessment and business impact analysis, ensuring both include a focus on employees and overall organizational health. These core documents can help give you the information and insight you need to develop strategies and plans for recovery in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

One note of caution: It’s common for companies to stop there, but it’s important to also assess the potential for long-term effects on your employees. You need to understand what happens if they are unable to return to work for extended periods of time, if they suffer the negative effects of unexpected expenses or if they incur losses not easy to recover. Then, consider a plan to provide them with critical financial support when they need it most.

HR leaders are crucial in sustaining the values of the organization and optimizing adaptability for unexpected conditions. While we can’t predict when and where disasters will strike, we can ensure we stand ready to provide a compassionate response to our most important asset—our people.



This article was originally published on Forbes. To read the original article, click here.

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