A 5-Step Plan for Communicating With Employees at the Outset of a Crisis


Your organization is in crisis. Your first step: Get your internal team up to speed on the crisis. And in the heat of the moment, how do you begin formulating your very first communication to employees? Here’s a step-by-step plan:

1. Begin With the Five Ws and the H

Like any respectable reporter, you must now inform employees on the basics of the crisis—and no model encapsulates the framework of doing this better than journalism’s famous Five Ws (also known as the Five Ws and One H). They are the fundamentals of telling a full story in the form of answers to the following questions: 

  • Who is it about?
  • What happened (what’s the story)?
  • When did it take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • How did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?

2. Explain the organizational implications

Explain what the crisis means for the organization as a whole in order to set the context for what it may imply for employees individually. If you need to make difficult decisions with respect to your workforce, this is the opportunity to lay out your organizational rationale or justification as a preface.

3. Describe individual implications

This component is the one on which your employees will naturally focus the most, and while it should be a corollary to the previous one, articulate it with patience, respect and sensitivity—especially if it’s not the kind of news you’d expect to go down easily. 

4. Illustrate your course of action

Is this a crisis you can and will do something about? If so, then by all means, tell employees what management is prepared to do or is already doing. If needed, enlist their support, and explain what they can do to help.

5. Keep your employees posted

Conclude by assuring employees that you will keep them apprised of developments and communicate to them regularly as the situation evolves. 

Assaf Kedem is director of communications and a senior writer at AllianceBernstein. He can be reached askedem@yahoo.com.


This article was adapted from PR News’ Crisis Management Guidebook Vol. 5This and other guidebooks can be ordered at the PR News Press online store. 




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