Maintaining employee morale and focus during times of crisis isn't easy, but communication is essential to the effort. And yet, many in leadership - in organizations big and small - are shying away from direct dialogue with their workers.
A recent Economic Anxiety in the Workplace poll (results published October 1 and collected over the preceding 72 hours) by Elliot Masie asked "What, if any, action(s) has your organization's leadership taken to respond to the economic anxiety in the workplace?".
- 21% said that there had been "briefings by leadership on the organization's economic health"
- 13% responded that there had been "briefings by leadership on the economic crisis"
- 13% said that managers had had "conversations with employees on economic anxiety"
- 7% responded that their organizations had held "workshops/briefings on dealing with 401(k) management"
- 46% responded that organizational leadership had taken "no action as of today"
It's not hard to understand and appreciate the reluctance. Leaders are anxious as well, and may hesitate to open a dialogue about a situation where nobody - including them - has the answers employees are seeking.
To support and provide guidance to leaders in taking that critical communication step during these difficult times, Watson Wyatt shares some basic communication tenets:
Be a leader. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers. Tell employees what you know and what you don’t. Explain the steps the organization is taking to identify issues and resolve problems. Knowing senior executives are there to lead through uncertain economic times is crucial to your people.
Show your strengths. Reinforce the core competencies and values that make your organization successful. Talk about how they will help the organization thrive in the future.
Be visible. Credibility, conviction and passion are important messages that only actual presence can convey. Employees can benefit from seeing engaged and informed senior leaders through Webcasts or other interactive vehicles.
Use your team. Make sure the management team knows how and what to communicate, and that no one is a bystander. Limit potential damage from leaders’ informal conversations that are overheard and ripple through every organization.
Be coordinated. Coordinate your internal and external messages. Employees should hear company news from the company first.
Share responsibility. Be clear about what you want your managers and your workforce to do. People want to help — tell them how. It’s never a bad time to reinforce customer focus.
Give up the myth of message control. Find ways to listen to what is on employees’ minds. Monitor the press and social media for what is being said about your company and your industry. Have a process for quickly developing and distributing answers to rumors and for clarifying inaccurate statements, such as possible layoffs.
Be humane. Some employees are experiencing personal trauma from falling 401(k) account balances and home prices. Acknowledge their pain and make them aware of the resources at their disposal, such as the company’s Employee Assistance Plan.
For the last word on the importance - to all organizations - of maintaining employee morale and engagement during crises, I leave you with the wisdom of Tom Peters:
Tough times are in fact golden opportunities to get the drop, and the longterm drop at that, on those who respond to bad news by panicky across-the-board slash and burn tactics and moves that de-motivate and alienate the workforce at exactly the wrong moment.
Tough times indeed require tough and unpleasant decisions—but thriving, not just surviving, is an option for those who mix wisdom and boldness of leadership with transparency and maximized employee involvement and engagement. Without suggesting that there is anything humorous about the pain that bad times cause, one can say that "this is when it gets fun" for truly talented and imaginative leaders at all levels and in businesses of every sort and size!