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Crisis Communication in the Workplace

Crisis Communication and management is an aspect of that has proved to be of immense significance to any business establishment and organizations over the years. Crisis communication can be defined as how an organization responds in communication to its customers and stakeholder when crises occur in the organization. Such a crisis in an organization can be defined as an unfavorable turn of events that would signify drops in productivity, profit or the general detriment of an organization. A company’s or organization’s ability to perform crisis communication depends on how much it has invested in public relations. That is crisis communication is mainly by the person in public relations. Crisis communication also plays a role in the management of national disasters such as floods and terrorism. In this case, government representatives and media have a crucial role to play in communicating to the public on any future catastrophic events.

Communication can be defined as the exchange of thoughts and ideas between persons. In communication, there has to be two or more participants. There has to be a sender and recipient for the exchange of communication to take place. Therefore, in all aspects of life communication is the main bridge and link between the sender and receiver. Through communication people are able to understand each other well and reduce the chances of having ambiguous situations. Communication crowns every aspect of living.  Hence, communication is vital. The ways through which different people pass their messages to one another bring up the concept of types of communication. Communication can be put into two main categories. These are verbal and nonverbal communication. Verbal communication mainly involves the use of words, while nonverbal communication is the use of behaviors, signs and actions to pass a message.

Communication plays a crucial role in the day today lives. Despite the essence of communication in life, there are many problems that arise from failure of leaders to communicate. Failure in communication comes in when the sender fails to pass his or her message to the recipients or the recipients fails to receive the message from the sender. Communication is complete and effective when the participants understand each other in their responses. As a result of miscommunication, many problems have led to crippled efforts of crisis communication.

Crisis can be defined as a serious incidence that produces an outcome which mostly negatively affects a community or organization. It does not matter the size of the organization; crises come to organizations of all calibers, and the extent of damage that a crisis will inflict on an organization will depend on how prepared that organization was for such eventualities . A crisis normally disrupts the normal operations of an organization; and can sometimes put an organization in jeopardy. Examples of these are boycotts, fires, terrorism, product tampering, and product failure. Crisis communication refers to the situation where an organization or community has been affected by a crisis, or may get affected in the future. It involves the communication that will be done between the leaders of the organization, or leader of the community.

Statement of the Problem

Crisis communication can happen to communities, companies, nations, or even continent. In this context, it does not matter the size of the organization; when a crisis comes, it can affect the present situation entirely cause damage, and losses. Many times crises occur to organizations that the management of those organizations had failed to anticipate. They may have prepared themselves for certain obvious crises, and failed to protect themselves from other eventualities. If the leaders of the community, or organization fail to pass the alerts message to the people then crisis communication becomes a factor of the losses. Therefore, there is a want in the society today to understand crisis communication. This paper will explain the details about crisis communication. Why we need to study and understand crisis communication. The study will also include past researches done by other scholars of communication to edify the finding in the study.

Purpose and objective of study

The purpose of this study is to understand crisis communication. In the society, today there are many scenarios where people, companies, and organization have lost a lot of property due to failure to communicate. Many businesses are today collapsing because of problems of communication between workers and employers, not to mention the many losses of human life as a result of crisis communication between the government and its people. Hence the study will enlighten the people on importance and effective crisis communication.

Consequently, the study is expected to make relevant recommendations that would effective crisis communication.  In the attempt to understand the importance of effective crisis communication, various observations will be used to enhance the understanding of how to apply crisis communication in different contexts.

Significance of the study

This study is particularly beneficial to the leaders of the organization. It will help them know the way to carry out crisis communication.

In order for the organization, to improve in the way they respond to crisis, the person that as the responsibility of communicating to the rest of the people in the organization has to have the knowledge so that he or she can communicate effectively to the other members. Without this knowledge and know-how, there is a likelihood of misunderstanding or worse, miscommunication. In the end, lack of effective communication may have consequences that are irreversible.

In addition, understanding crisis communication will not only come in handy in the working set up, but will also be helpful in other situation. An individual will learn how to handle critical situations he or she encounters in day-today life. He or she will be able to apply the knowledge gained from this study in any crisis they meet. Hence people should look forward to this study as it will equip them with knowledge. It is a timely subject of discussion.

Basic Assumptions

This study has several assumptions.

  1. The first assumption is that crisis communication happens in every organization and people. This means that, as long as there is a certain project or community, there will always be a crisis.

  2. The study assumes that most of the leaders given this responsibility do not apply the knowledge they have on crisis communication. As a result, there are many failures in the organizations today.

  3. It is also assumed that there are many people who are not aware of crisis communication in the society today. In addition, people have not known the significance and importance of communication. Hence, many have failed to respond to messages of crisis.

Limitations of study

The limitations of the study will explain the shortcomings that are likely to hinder maximizing all resources in this study. There are many scholars that have done studies on crisis communication. Other writers have also highlighted many situations and case studies that can be used to edify and enhance this report. However, due to the word limit of this paper it will not be possible to discuss the different case studies in detail. This study will only discuss on a number of the significant articles and publication on Crisis communication. 

History of crisis communication

According to Anthonissen  crisis communication in business began way long ago. The principles of crisis communication were used in the Tylenol affair. Coombs & Holladay highlight that the  companies that applied crisis communication well during this time not only came out successful, but they also emerged strong in terms if crisis intervention. History of crisis intervention acknowledges Johnson & Johnson for his participation in crisis communication dated in 1982.

Johnson & Johnson in 1982 came up with the idea of a fever and pain medicine. There was an outbreak of a disease in the US that killed several people. The death of these patients was a result of intake of a poisonous tablet. Once people discovered the lethargy in the drug, they stopped buying it, and he lost market of his medicine. Johnson & Johnson then gave in to studying the cause of death, which he concluded that the tablet that people were using contained cyanide which caused about 250 deaths in Chicago. James Burke, Johnson and Johnson Chairman, realized that his company was now getting a lot of negative publicity, because the media were now creating frenzy among the populace. In reaction to this situation, he created a strategy team that had seven members. This team had the task of rescuing the company from the predicament in which it had found itself. The first objective was to think up a way of saving the product. Thus, they were to come up with a strategy that would help to achieve this. Their first action was to alert their customers all over the country immediately that they were not to ingest any more Tylenol capsules for a while. This they did through all the effective forms of media (television, radio, and newspapers). They told their customers concerning the poisonous capsules and stated that until they had determined the degree of tampering of Tylenol that had occurred, customers were not to ingest any more Tylenol capsules. He devoted himself to discovering a better treatment for the illness. A few months later he had come up with medicine that was more effective and cured the disease.

In a short while, Johnson & Johnson had gained about 70 percent of the market by the new drug. He turned a crisis into an opportunity (Anthonissen 2008). Johnson and Johnson took advantage of the negative publicity that they had received, and turned it to be to their benefit; this is because, through it, Johnson and Johnson was able to win over more people than ever before. People saw that they could trust Johnson and Johnson and its products because they went out of their way to make sure that the public was safe. This served further solidify and emphasize Johnson and Johnson’s influence in the industry. After the whole incident, Johnson and Johnson products have since enjoyed the privilege of mostly being the first choice of customers. The company was then able to stretch its wings of influence all across the globe to all continents.

Literature review

According to Coombs & Holladay Steven Fink gave out his first publication on crisis communication. In the book, “Crisis Management: Planning for the   Inevitable.” he began highlighting the upcoming study of crisis management. He explains that crisis management arises from disasters that spring up from the situations we encounter. These studies were later published in other business and industrial journals. The studies lay significant emphasis on crisis and disaster management. Today the literature produced in 1986 by Fink is well used in crisis intervention and communication.

China paper has written the history of crisis communication in China. In this paper, the writer has detailed on the relationship between China’s Government and its citizen in terms of crisis communication and intervention. The study in this writing is based on two subjects. These two studies include studies in communication, and science of law. The paper includes the right of the citizens in terms of information. As per this publication, the public has a right and they should be given priority, and importance in times of crisis management. The discussion highlight that the media are also included in crisis communication. The media plays a crucial role in passing the messages of crisis to the public. Failure to communicate effectively to the people has often led to disastrous happenings. For instance in times of hurricane Katrina that took place in the US.  This was considered as one of the most disastrous events in United States.

Hurricane Katrina swept New Orleans, USA in 2005. Victims were caught off guard when the hurricane hit their town on August 29. They knew that there was a possibility of a hurricane coming because they were on the coastline and the ocean is known to produce hurricanes in certain seasons. However, they never imagined that they would be hit by such a devastating hurricane. Had they conceived of such a possibility, proprietors, realtors and business people would have invested in the magnitude of permanent structures, buildings, and business premises that they had in the New Orleans area. Hurricane Katrina is rated to be the costliest natural disaster in history. Total property worth approximately $81 billion is said to have been damaged or destroyed by the hurricane. People’s life work and investments were destroyed, and they had to start from scratch. This is an example of a major crisis; they can happen at any time, without warning. Thus, business owners need to be prepared on how to handle such occurrences, and how to bounce back from such eventualities.

This paper describes how much the media and government need to prepare for such crisis. The report on this disastrous event laid a message to the leaders and the people that they should take any alert messages real keenly. There should be a person that will take the responsibility fully to be informing the public of any disastrous events to come.

According to Zaremba, in January 2009, the Peanut Corporation of America (PEA) experienced a crisis that cost them dearly. The company happened to produce and distribute peanut products that were said to contain salmonella poisoning. Approximately 500 people were noted to have gotten sick and ingesting the peanut products; out of these, 8 were said to have died from the poisoning in the products. PEA was forced to recall its products that were in the markets. The public did not take it lightly. In addiition, PEA had already been warned before distribution by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a report that their products were tainted with salmonella. PEA had dug itself into a hole, out of which that it did not know how to get. It resorted to suspending operations in its plant in Georgia, and closing its plant in Plainview, Texas.

Such is an example of a crisis that almost permanently crippled an organization; the only way that such an organization can stay afloat is through effective crisis communication with its customers and the stakeholder. PEA had to reassure its customers that it was doing all that it could do to make sure that such an occurrence did not happen again. This was the reason why it resorted to halting production in plants that were noted to be producing tainted products.

Seeger et al also discusses on the issue of crisis communication. According to Seeger et al, every organization must strive to keep its workers satisfied in order to ensure their loyalty and hard work. Effective crisis communication strategies need to be set in place in case of a crisis (Seeger et al., 2003). Without their workers, organizations are helpless; therefore, in order to avoid unexpected negative eventualities with the workers, organizations need to be in tune to the needs and requirements of their workers at all times. The Image restoration theory applies well in this case.

Another article published by Carey emphasizes on the efficiency of crisis communication. Carey in her article discusses that crisis management has come to be a significant issue in the management of crisis today. Many companies and organizations that have had a excellent reputation in the past are continuously collapsing. This is mainly due to the lack of sufficient preparation on crisis. In her article “Crisis Communication: Now More Than Ever, a Timely Topic” she explains that Banks and industries have collapsed and brought significant losses to many people. These have seriously affected the financial market in the world. People have not yet given up on the thought of having leaders that will be prepared for crisis. Leaders of organizations and the government are to take time and learn from the previous experiences. They should be keen to know how to handle crisis, and change in the ways that were not effective in crisis communication.

The journal of business communication agrees with the ideas and input of Carey. The journal outlines several scenarios of businesses that collapsed. The writer of the journal is particularly moved by the fact that many people have not learned how to handle crises despite going through the same incidents repeatedly. According to the article, reports on investigation done show that the happening of a crisis is always a contributing factor to another crisis in the future. That is an organization can weigh the chances of having another crisis happening in future. Therefore, leaders should be careful to learn from their past experiences rather than wait for another crisis to happen that will cause losses.

Research Methodology

This section outlines the overall methodology that will be used to obtain accurate data, and that will enable the survey to achieve its objectives. It presents a systematic description of the method to be used by the researcher, the research design, and population of the study, sample frame, procedures adopted in data collection, research procedures, data analysis and presentation. It discusses the importance of valid and reliable data and how the researcher achieved this. A survey research design will be used to collect information from members of the target population. The researcher will be able to determine the current situations and status about the same population based on one or more variables.

Correlation is a research design that is used to describe the relationship between variables which is usually in quantitative terms. This method involves the collection of information to find out whether there exists a relationship between variables and explain the degree of relationship. The relationship between variables is usually expressed as a correlation coefficient.

In addition, to the research methods mentioned above, case studies will be used to collect in-depth information for the crisis management study. This is done by investigating the target group, the phenomena or even a certain institution. The case which is under, study is always viewed as a class of events or individuals who form a group.


A sample allows the researcher to make a generalization about populations. Fink defines a sample as a portion or subset of the larger group which is known as the population. The process of sample collection involves selected of a desirable number of units that are expected to yield some knowledge about a certain population for statistical inference. The target population consists of organizations, persons, problems and systems to which or to whom the evaluation’s findings are to be applied or generalized.

Random sampling will be used in this research for various reasons. It will help in shortening the time required to conduct and conclude the study. Including the entire population it is not only tiring and time consuming, but also inaccurate. This means that sampling will reduce the effect of populations that are considered irrelevant on the target study thereby reducing chances of inaccuracy in results presentation and conclusions. In this study, the sample will consist of employees from an organization that consist of the variables.

Data Collection Instrument

Structured interview will be used for this study. Structured interview contains both open and closed questions. A questionnaire will be developed and employees will be expected to answer all the questions. The data collection instruments to be used for this research will be questionnaires and structured interviews. The management will be requested to allow employees to participate in the exercise. The researcher will develop open and close ended questions. Open ended questions will help the researcher get supporting information. The primary data will be collected by the researcher and assistant research agents.

Data analysis and Presentation

 Data analysis is an exercise that involves putting data collected in a systematic manner, coding the data which is done in a critical manner. The researcher will first edit the data to examine its completeness, validity, accuracy, reliability, completeness and comprehensiveness. Structured questionnaires will be coded in respect to questions for case of electronic data processing prior to the commencement of field work. After tabulation, the data will be coded to facilitate statistical analysis. The researcher will thereafter analyze the data qualitatively and quantitatively using software. Descriptive statistics such as mean, percentages, standard deviation and frequency distribution will be used to enable the researcher to meaningful describe the distribution of measurements. The analyzed data will be presented in the form of graphs, charts and tables and a report written on the same.

Importance of crisis communication to an organization

Crisis communication has several advantages that can help the people involved in crisis.

Through crisis communication an organization or a company is able to learn how to communicate to one another. As discussed previously, communication plays a crucial role in organization. Through such events, different people come together to seek a solution for the crisis. Hence, it edifies the union of workers in an organization.

Crisis communication is the first thought that strikes when a disaster happens. Through crisis communication, much of the property that could be at stake can be saved and preserved. Like in the case of the hurricane in the United States, a lot of property was lost. If there was adequate information on the hurricane passed to the people, some of the losses would not have happened.

Though crisis communication, people get to run for safety. Say in the case of fire outbreaks, people can get prepared to save their lives before the worst happens.

Through crisis communication organization can get feedback from participants on how to handle crisis in the future. Such contribution is especially helpful to the public relations departments who are responsible for such events.

Through crisis management plans, an organization is able to learn better ways of handling crisis in the future. This can be done by reviewing the previous happenings that have negatively affected the company or organization.

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