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The stress test – steering your workforce through turbulent times


many companies, a host of counterproductive emotional issues are in play … and
executives who don’t recognise and address them will have difficulty moving
their organisations forward.

Uncertainty and fear are
the biggest obstacles

undergoing layoffs are dealing with anxious employees, as are those where
workforce reductions are a future possibility. With terminations being
conducted in waves and reported daily in the press, no one knows if and when
the P45 is coming. These are not circumstances conducive to engaging and
motivating employees.

The insight out

the current economic climate, trust and pride in your organisation can be eroded
and an attitude of ‘me first’ can dominate even within the ‘survivors’ of
layoffs – exactly the opposite factors needed to ‘right the ship’.

feelings always impact productivity and work quality. The consequences generally
are increased error rates, decreased creativity, higher levels of absenteeism
and poorer problem solving. When fear and doubt replace employee trust and
encouragement, resentment and suspicion towards the company are continually

a downhill trajectory in this scenario and if not reversed, you could end up
with a lose-lose outcome.

Navigating rough waters

your workforce through a difficult time is a true test of corporate leadership.
The following three actions will help regain some of that lost trust and go a
long way towards improving morale.

  1. Communicate. Speak honestly about
    the challenges being faced, as well as anticipated direction. Without
    direct communication, employees will fill the void with worst-case
    scenarios. Communication is critical in times like these.
    Employees need assurance that their commander is in control, has planned
    for contingencies and knows where the company is headed. Frequent,
    effective communication is key to holding the team together. Knowledge and
    information keep rumours and speculation at bay.
  2. Develop front-line managers.
    Employee engagement is ‘local’. It occurs at the individual and team
    levels, and is highly influenced by the actions of an employee’s direct
    manager. However, many front-line managers lack the skills to create an
    atmosphere where their direct reports can be engaged. The manager
    who sets clear goals, communicates, builds trust, holds employees
    accountable, and then recognises in an effective manner will improve
    overall employee survey scores. While managers cannot often change the
    tasks in their organisations, they can change employees’ attitudes toward
    their jobs by setting clear corporate or team goals. By defining the
    purpose of a task and tying it to a desirable end result, effective
    leaders infuse work with meaning and purpose. The task remains the same,
    but its significance in employees’ minds skyrockets. Invest the time and resources to
    develop these skills in your managers.
  3. More importantly, don’t cut back
    on rewards and recognition during leaner times. Now more than ever, you
    need your core team to feel appreciated and important. Make sure that the
    people most critical to the business have the right workplace programmes
    that focus their attention on the right actions, meet their specific needs
    and preferences, and align with the organisation’s cost and talent
    objectives. Recognition is critical to driving the right performance
    results, especially in a tough financial climate.

these measures won’t turn back the clock to the good old days… they’ll increase
your odds of making your workforce and organisation more productive. They’re
the ‘must-do’ actions that can foster the ‘can-do’ reactions.

When you think
of great leaders in history that you really admire, chances are they were
leaders in very trying times, what we call these days as ‘turbulent times’.
These were and are great men and women that were cast in a role of having to
become better than themselves to achieve goals much higher than they could ever
imagine. The list of these great leaders is long, but includes Winston
Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther Jnr., and Ghandi. All great leaders
who in their time made a huge impact on their people, their countries and

Today we find ourselves in turbulent business
times, a time that will test our resolve and our leadership. Where we will be
called on to engage and inspire our employees and fellow workers, to encourage
them to continue to be productive in their jobs and caring for clients. Now the
business world needs great leaders and great leaders are made in tough times.
Nothing accelerates leadership in trust, communication, goal setting and accountability
better than implementing the
right workplace programmes that focus the attention of employees on the right
actions, meet their specific needs and preferences, and align with the
organisation’s cost and talent objectives. We are
indeed part of the answer to these troubled times. Become a great leader!

 Donna Sizemore is VP at OC Tanner


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