The economy is struggling and everyone is worried about the political, environmental and financial climate.
Facing challenging times, what can business leaders do to help their people feel looked after?
How to help people weather the storm
1. Focus on efficiencies, not new stuff
It’s our jobs as business leaders to be preserving cash to make sure we can pay our staff and keep things running well. That means big-ticket projects may have to be delayed.
This can lead to people feeling like they’re not achieving anything, because there’s less exciting stuff going on. Make sure you’re building excitement around finding the bits of the business where we can do clever fixes and automations to make things run more smoothly and efficiently to save money and time now, and make everything run smoother in the future.
2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep
It’s tempting to constantly dangle an illusive carrot to ‘keep things positive’ but ultimately, if you can’t actually promise it, don’t promise it. We’re all adults here – we can all respect and understand some home truths accompanied by hopes for the future. Just NOT promises that are never delivered. That destroys trust and morale.
3. Be transparent but not doomy
Your own fears about the financial situation can’t colour the situation for your crew. If they feel the weight of that on them, they’ll be worrying even more.
Being straight about how things are is fine: these are adults. But try to maintain your optimism for them, explain all the things you’re doing to make sure everything’s going to be fine and
People only do good work when they feel safe. Part of the job is to help them feel that way.
4. Do not say (or imply) ‘you’re lucky to have a job’
When your business is living through a tough economic situation, the last thing you want is to be dealing with resignations (unless you’re trying to encourage attrition, but that’s another story).
As the business focuses more on internal improvements rather than more expensive activity, you’ll need the shared knowledge to stay strong. It’s not a good time for brain drain.
Don’t forget that employment is a partnership. You need them, so don’t lose them by being tactless.
5. Don’t try to suppress bad news
People in your business know a LOT more than you realise, so not telling the truth leads to a culture of secrets, speculation and doubt. You need to say when people are leaving because the emotional and functional connections are REAL. Hard truths are hard, but saying them tells your team you respect them.
6. Face redundancies head-on
Elon Musk is helpfully running a live case study in how not to make people redundant. Workers finding out they no longer have jobs because they’ve been locked out of systems, others hearing on Slack – it’s toxic, and it just adds to the distress.
Obviously, in the UK we have much fairer employment laws, but the point is that it’s already a bad enough situation. It has to be addressed honestly and kindly.
Something else I’ve learned through watching Elon Musk’s Twitter redundancies: when you ask people to leave, you can expect 50% more in organic attrition. The negativity and brain drain affects others.
The business may be struggling, your stress levels may be through the roof. But there will be people in your company who won’t be able to turn the heating on this winter. People whose landlords are panicking and increasing the rent. Kindness may be the only thing you can afford to give them right now, so give it.
8. Promote wellbeing – carefully
Don’t underestimate the mental strain people are under right now. As long as you’re doing all the above, you have the right to help people maintain their wellbeing. If you don’t, they’ll listen to you talking about mental health and feel like you’re mugging them off.
Never forget: the number-one way to improve your staff’s wellbeing during an economic downturn is to improve their pay. If you can’t do that, which is understandable, they need to feel cared for in a way that isn’t insulting.
Time to buckle in, cosy up and knuckle down
We can try to use this time to clean house and improve our processes inhouse. It’s going to be a difficult period and we need our teams to stay focused and feel secure.