Recession takes a toll on engagement, productivity

9 tips to reengage employees

The recession has led to a widespread loss of employee engagement that could cripple organizations even as the economy heads into recovery, according to Jon Gordon, author of The Shark and the Goldfish: Positive Ways to Thrive During Waves of Change.

“Even if companies haven’t literally lost their employees, many have lost them psychologically,” said Gordon. “And if leaders don’t strive to change that — to create a positive culture that energizes people — there will be dire consequences.”

Tired of working more hours for less pay under the threat of termination, many workers have mentally checked out of their jobs, he said. They are simply doing what they need to in order to hang on until something better comes along.

A recent study by the Workforce Institute at Kronos found in organizations that have experienced layoffs, 40 per cent of employees report their productivity has suffered. Of that 40 per cent, two-thirds think morale has been negatively impacted and they aren’t as motivated as before.

“For leaders, now is the time to improve your company’s culture and get inside your employees’ heads,” said Gordon. “You need to personally make sure that your company is a place where people want to work. You can allow the current economy to crush your morale, confidence and spirit, or you can choose to proactively shape your organization into one that is positive, resilient, and prepared to take on challenges.”

The following nine strategies will help leaders boost morale and engagement in the current economy:

1. Focus on people, not numbers. Leaders need to take a step back and remember their company isn’t what shows up in the finance department’s spreadsheets — it’s the finance people themselves, and the HR department, and the salespeople, and support staff. Ultimately, an organization’s failure or success is determined by the moods, innovation, energy, thoughts, and behaviors of the people who work there, said Gordon.

2. Model good behavior. Leaders set the tone for how employees respond to almost every situation. They can inspire, or they can extinguish. Whatever an organization expects from its people, it must also expect from the senior leadership.

"Now is not a time to be barricaded in your office. Now is a time to be in the trenches with your people, leading, working, and building a successful future," said Gordon.

3. Practice positive leadership. While it’s important to acknowledge the obstacles an organization is facing, don’t dwell on them in meetings or in individual conversations, and don’t bring up bad news before pointing out one or two things that are going well.

“Right now, negativity and fear are probably knocking your people off balance,” said Gordon.

4. Fill the void. In the absence of clear and positive communication, people start to assume the worst, and they will act accordingly. Leaders should personally meet with employees and continually communicate through town hall meetings and face-to-face meetings, said Gordon.

5. Tell energy vampires, “It’s time to get on the bus…or off the bus.” No matter how many pep talks leaders give or good behaviors they model, their efforts won’t go far unless everyone is on the same page.

“Once you’ve identified the naysayers on your team, gently approach them and give them a chance to get on the bus and share in a positive vision,” Gordon advises. “However, if these energy vampires refuse to get on board, then you must get them off the bus.”

6. Forbid complaining. Successful organizations with great cultures focus on solutions, not on complaints, said Gordon. Let employees know they are not allowed to complain unless they also offer solutions.

7. Teach employees to be heroes, not victims. Both heroes and victims get knocked down, but heroes get back up while victims simply give up. Remind employees they have a significant influence over how things turn out.

8. Focus on the small wins. When leaders focus on small wins, the team gains the confidence to go after and create the big wins, said Gordon.

9. Make sure you have sharks in key positions. When the economy was thriving, it didn’t matter as much if key employees turned in a mediocre performance. Now, it's important to figure out which people display the characteristics of driven, go-get-’em “nice sharks,” and which are “goldfish,” or more natural relationship managers.

“Your sharks are the people you need in sales or business-driving positions,” Gordon suggests. “Your goldfish, or relationship managers, are better suited to answering phones, taking orders, and cultivating customer goodwill. People who aren’t in the right positions won’t thrive—and your organization will constantly find itself struggling.”

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