Thursday, September 4, 2008
When Times are Tough, How Do You Keep Workers Focused and Engaged?
While no one would dispute the fact that workers are stressed because of continuing layoffs, stagnant wages and rising consumer prices, the pressure may be compounded for the people in charge of keeping workers enthusiastic and motivated -- managers.
I recently interviewed Michael Stallard, CEO of E Pluribus Partners in Greenwich, Conn., and he told me that at times like this, managers have to be even more vigilant about staying close -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- to their staff.
That's because employees can become unfocused and unproductive when times are so uncertain and challenging.
“Stress sort of short-circuits the brain,” Stallard says.
Still, Stallard says managers have some tools to help bring teams together, such as making sure all workers "feel like they’re connected.”
That means that managers need to make sure they keep an open-door policy" and assure workers they’re available to talk about any anxieties they may be experiencing. At the same time, Stallard says managers should actively work at finding ways to get employees out of the office, which can be ground zero for work stress.
“Go to lunch with your employees. Go for a walk with them. Spend time with them one-on-one, and let them express their feelings,” he says. “And make sure that when they are at work, you give them some tasks that they enjoy doing.”
Stallard advises managers trying to energize and engage employees during these tough economic times to:
• Stay focused. Employees should be reminded that they have an obligation to their other team members, and that means everyone must pull his or her weight and work toward targeted goals. Remind them how important their work is for everyone on the team, he says.
• Keep the panic at bay. “Let them know that if they’re feeling especially anxious, they should come and talk to you,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure they know they can talk about whatever they’re going through.”
• Use social media. Some employees may be more comfortable communicating through e-mail or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. “Face-to-face contact is always the best, but more managers have employees on different continents or in different cities. Social media is a great way to stay connected with your team and keep them engaged.”
• Remember to laugh. “Humor is a great reliever of stress,” he says. “Try and find ways to have some fun with your employees.”
But what if the worst thing happens – and a manager must lay off workers?
“The first time I had to lay someone off it made me physically sick,” Stallard says. “You have an obligation to be respectful, and show empathy. That’s critical. You also need to try and help them as much as you can in finding another job.”
Stallard says he strongly disagrees with employees being immediately escorted from a building upon dismissal from a job, which he calls “humiliating.”
“You should let them finish their day and communicate with the other employees,” he says. “One other thing to think about: The existing employees will remember how you treated those who left.”
Finally, Stallard says the key for managers trying to cope with these challenging times is to practice a management philosophy that treats people with respect and compassion through good times and bad.
“A lot of what goes into keeping people engaged through the tough times is the history of how you have managed,” he says. “It’s almost like you’re building up an emotional bank account.”
What else can managers do to help keep employees engaged and enthusiastic?