6 Tested Tips to Help You Manage a
Crisis at Work

See also: Crisis Communications

At some point, you’re going to experience a crisis at work. Everybody does. There isn’t a single successful business that hasn’t gone through a rough patch, and it’s essential to know how to manage them.

A public crisis at your workplace can be relatively minor, like a salesperson who acted unprofessionally and damaged relations with a client. At the other extreme, it could be an event that attracts global attention, like when the ship Ever Given became stuck in the Suez Canal holding up global ship traffic for a week.

Regardless of the scale of the crisis, panicking is not the solution. You have to keep yourself together and respond calmly.

Professionally resolving a crisis is not easy, but you can resolve it by approaching it with the right mindset. Here are six tips for managing a crisis at work.

1. Identify the Cause of the Crisis

Finding the cause of the problem should always be the first step. So, take a deep breath, assess the situation, and identify the root cause. You might not arrive at the cause right away, but you need to keep asking questions and digging through the facts until you find it.

Once you’ve identified the cause of the crisis, take responsibility and make efforts to resolve the issue. Try not to make excuses; holding yourself accountable is an excellent personal trait.

If you’re dealing with a problem caused by another employee, you’ll need to let them know as soon as possible. Make contact with them, explain what you’ve found, and see what steps you can take to find a solution.

2. Communicate Honestly with all the Stakeholders

Once you’ve identified the problem, you’ll need to explain it to the impacted stakeholders. At this stage, it is vital to be open and honest. It may be tempting to reassure people that everything is fine and try to prevent a panic, but this can backfire.

Don’t pretend there is a solution if you haven’t thought of one yet, don’t downplay any risks, and let them know if there is a chance of redundancies. If the crisis escalates and you’ve made promises you couldn’t keep, it’ll only cause resentment and anger.

That can be trickier than it sounds. There will always be scenarios where you can’t tell people everything, and inevitably, the rumor mill will start to turn.

Communicating a crisis can be a minefield. But if you’re courteous of everyone’s time and answer questions as honestly as you can, you can hopefully manage things effectively.

Most importantly, if you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t make something up for the sake of momentary relief. The phrase “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you” is more reassuring than a lie.

3. Create a Communication Plan

Regardless of how big or small the crisis is, you’ll also need to ensure you maintain regular contact with everyone involved. To this end, it’s worth creating a communication plan.

Whether it’s the shareholders, the customers, the public, or your workplace colleagues, keeping everyone updated is essential. To this end, it’s worth agreeing to a pattern of regular contact to make sure they’re kept informed. A midweek office meeting to inform staff of developments can boost employee morale.

Keep the updates coming, whether or not the situation has changed. If you’ve promised to send a weekly email updating people but then find yourself with nothing new, don’t go quiet. A short message saying there are no developments is better than staying silent. If you don’t stick to your communication plan, you’ll look unreliable.

4. Try to Stay Organized

Regardless of the crisis, you have to keep a clear head. Resolving a crisis can be a very stressful experience, and you’ll inevitably find yourself with many new responsibilities to handle. That’s why organizing your tasks is critical.

Staying on top of your responsibilities is tricky when the stakeholders want answers urgently, and you’ve got a dozen angry emails to respond to. But if you want to reassure everyone that the situation is under control, you’ll need to stay organized.

So if you can delegate tasks, do so, group all your essential documents in a secure location, and update your notes regularly. Lots of little tasks like that will help manage your stress levels. The calmer you are, the more reassured your colleagues that the situation is under control.

5. Share the Potential Solution with Everyone

Once you’ve come up with a solution to the crisis, you’ll want to share it with everyone. Not only will it provide a clear idea of what to do next, but it’ll also allow your colleagues to make suggestions of their own. You’re not perfect, and there will always be ideas you’ve missed.

Managing your way out of a crisis is going to require teamwork. You’ll have to make sure you don’t patronize people or alienate them. Sharing the solution is a great way to make people feel valued.

Collaboration and trust are your friends when a crisis happens. Your staff will notice you micromanaging them, but they’ll also notice when you put faith in their ability to handle something.

Don’t forget; a crisis at work can affect everyone. If you’re feeling stressed, it’s reasonable to assume your colleagues are, too. So be prepared to explain things more than once and send email follow-ups.

6. Evaluate and Adapt to the Situation

Managing a team through a crisis is a matter of thinking on your feet. There will be times when things only seem to be getting worse; for instance, a PR crisis could escalate, and the stress could lead to more staff taking time off for sickness.

Try to resist the urge to kick a hole in the office wall or throw a computer monitor out the window when that happens. It might offer a brief outlet for your frustrations, but it’s far better to step back, take a deep breath, and roll with the punches. A crisis can throw your regular work routine into chaos, so be prepared to adapt as events unfold.

As the situation develops, you have to stay flexible. Try to come up with solutions for problems as they arise. If you are at a loss about what to do, look at how other organizations handled similar situations. You can learn a thing or two from them.

However, your solutions won’t always work. You need to know how to tell when you’re just spending time and resources on a solution that doesn’t help improve your situation. Before you reach this point, you should have identified a Plan B, C, D, etc., for specific scenarios. If you feel stuck, you can turn to a company with PR crisis management expertise for a solution.

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In Closing

Sadly, there’s no getting around the fact that everyone encounters a crisis at work, and it’s unlikely to be just one. All businesses encounter problems, but there’s opportunity in even the most frustrating ones. Suffering reputational controversies can leave you wanting to tear your hair out, but these problems provide an opportunity to learn.

So, if you’re currently having to work late every night to resolve a problem, take heart. Once the crisis is finished, you can develop a solution to prevent it from happening again. You can assess what went wrong and put a plan in place to help if it reoccurs.

We’re all human, and everyone makes mistakes. But if you take ownership of the mistakes and learn from them, you’ll become better at managing issues when they occur. The ideal employee isn’t the one that never makes errors; it’s the one who fixes them when they happen.

Chris Norton

About the Author

Chris Norton is founder of insight-led PR agency Prohibition, runs Social Media Training, is a former university lecturer, author of “Share This Too”, and is listed in the UK's top 10 PR and social media bloggers.