It was just a matter of time before there was a tightening of restrictions due to the Omicron variant. What I don’t think anyone expected was to see Plan B introduced at a time when trust and confidence in the Government has taken such a significant hit. Watching the press conference tonight it was clear that the mood and tone have changed.
Many people who had previously been very compliant or even disinterested in the situation have suddenly become very animated over the situation that has emerged in the past 24 hours. Early indications are that there is more questioning of who obeys the rules and whether they are important to everyone.
I have written many times of the importance of actions as much as words when dealing with a crisis. It is one thing to say what people need to do but it has to be backed up by a demonstration of following the guidance by all connected with it. Those at the top have a duty to show people what they need to do during a crisis. The recent events have turned this upside down.
What does this mean for communicators? It means the situation just got much harder to manage. People will be more inclined to follow their own rules and experiences rather than listen to guidance from the Government. I hope that local authorities can still leverage the support that they have gained during the past two years. This is a moment when other experts are needed to step in. People who have credibility and will be able to cut through the current apathy, anger and frustration.
The pandemic was always going to be a long running crisis. It was never going to be over by Easter, or Christmas and this was a message that should have been introduced long before we reached the end of 2021. The Tesco advert (with a message of nothing getting in the way of this Christmas) is starting to look out of touch with where we are.
My three tips from where we are:
- Be clear and honest with employees about what is required from them and why
- Use experts and people who have credibility when encouraging people to adhere to restrictions
- Listen to people’s concerns and use them to refine the communication approach
There is a lot more that is required in the days and weeks ahead but it is time for communicators to take a deep breath and keep focused on what matters.