It is everywhere on the news lately. Despite how few people have died*, let alone caught, the disease in the USA, it’s gripped the nation in an icy vice-grip of panic as a result of hype in the media and wild rumours. Yes, we are talking about the Ebola virus that has recently swept across West Africa, causing thousands of deaths in its wake. As Ebola makes its first appearances in the USA, the anxiety surrounding the virus has reached a new height, and your workforce may also be affected.
Education about the disease is a fine line between assuaging fears and being completely honest. Too much of the former and you risk de-emphasising the dangers, while too much of the latter results in making the problem seem much worse than it is. You also need to make sure you phrase the information clearly and succinctly, so as to prevent any misunderstanding. The last thing you want to do is accidentally impart false information because you explained something in a very ambiguous way.
Do Your Research
First and foremost, you need the bare facts. With all the hype surrounding Ebola, some have taken to exaggerating the threat it poses to American society. Some, whether out of ignorance or malice, have even fed entirely fabricated myths to the growing stew of panic. There are many articles online that list all the typical myths relating to Ebola and the facts behind them. For example, Ebola cannot be transmitted by touch – you must have fluid-to-fluid contact with the infected. So unless you spend your time kissing Ebola patients, you probably will never encounter Ebola yourself. Once you have the necessary education behind the disease you can quickly transmit that intelligence to other people, and this in turn can be spread to yet more people.
Eventually, you’ll find that you’ve infected more people with knowledge than have probably been infected with Ebola!
Lectures and Seminars
Of course simply having the knowledge is not enough; you have to disseminate it too. The most effective and cheapest way to do this en-masse is through a formalised talk or lecture. These can allow you to give out information in a somewhat relaxed and humanised manner while also allowing for more human interaction through a question and answer session at the end of the lecture itself. You can also use slides through PowerPoint or a flipchart to provide visual aids for your talk, such as graphs, maps and bullet-pointed summaries. A good lecture can take you as little as an hour, which also makes it more time efficient than other methods.
Be sure you address each concern raised by your employees. Naturally they’ll have many questions relating to Ebola, and it is essential you’ve done your homework beforehand. Even if you cannot predict every question you’ll be asked, you’ll at least have enough ground knowledge to cover most queries. Maybe even enough to cover questions you never expected to be asked, which will come up at least once or twice!
If you think you can manage it, inviting a medical practitioner knowledgeable in Ebola to talk at your lecture can be doubly effective, as your staff will more likely trust the words of an actual doctor.
You may also want to include a more personal seminar or group discussion session, whereby you gather a group of half a dozen or so employees and oversee a general discussion of the topic. This allows them to ask you questions in a more comfortable and less pressured setting, as well as open a forum for employees to bounce ideas and knowledge off each other. It is also a little easier to run, all you need to do is keep the discussion on topic and manage questions fielded at you.
Pamphlets and Informational Posters
If you lack the time or space for something as large as a lecture, you do have another option. Printing off leaflets is a very good alternative and allows you to hand out information about Ebola in a rapid fashion. It can also be cheap to do, although understandably a lecture is probably cheaper still. A few hundred leaflets and posters can be printed off sometimes as cheaply as $100 or so, and if you have a printer capable of printing leaflets already, it is cheaper still. These then can be given individually to staff, or placed in places where they are likely to congregate like the staff room.
Of course, you no longer have the space to place in all relevant information, being instead forced to summarise much of what you can give out to your staff. While this makes it more readily digestible — people always remember information better in chunks than in huge blocks – it also increases the chance of information being misinterpreted. Be careful how you words things. You may not be able to correct such misunderstandings yourself either.
Open Door Policies
Keeping an open door to your employees is always a good policy, and encouraging your staff to see you personally whenever they have concerns can both improve morale and prevent mishaps. Keep your staff aware that you are willing to talk to them personally about any worries that they may have, and you can combine the best of both the previous two elements. In a more intimate setting with the assurance of confidence, workers are more likely to be open and honest about their anxieties. You in turn can tailor your responses to them as an individual, without needing to adjust the message for a broader range of people.
Of course, there is a hitch; this relies almost entirely on the employees’ initiative. As it is such a relaxed and passive method, there’s no way of disseminating knowledge if no one approaches you. As such, it should be used as a way of rounding off the last two methods. Ideally, when informing people about Ebola without frightening them, you should try to get all three into motion.
*One confirmed death in Texas so far.
About the author:
The writer, Christian Mills, is a student of medicine at University of Washington School of Medicine. He is currently studying various viruses and how they transmit, and plans to use that knowledge to help employers understand the reality of diseases in the workplace. For now, to make sure your health and safety program is effective, he highly recommends using consultation and software from http://www.ecompliance.com.
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