In the midst of a downturn, it’s only human nature that individuals will think more about their own circumstances, security and well being than at other times. Whether their concerns over job security are justified or not, even the perception of insecurity can have a marked impact on motivation and productivity.

Employers often feel powerless to counter the de-motivating effect of this kind of work stress among their employees — even those who can provide the kind of reassurance we’d all welcome at times like this. For most of them, the current economic situation is new territory — knowing how to help their staff through it is an area where they have no experience.

But there are a range of practical steps employers can take to help colleagues focus on the business, stay motivated and proactively help their company through a downturn.

Be supportive — consider to what extent you offer genuine empathy with the concerns of your colleagues. Take the time to treat them as individuals — while their concerns over job security may be very similar, the way they handle the stress it may bring will vary considerably.

Keep a close eye on stress levels — while many people will have experienced redundancy (or the threat of it) before, it’s many years since anyone has seen anything within this kind of context. Monitoring stress through good communication — both formally and informally — can help you keep tabs on what the general undercurrent is at any particular time. Spend some time in the informal areas of the office (around the water cooler or the coffee machine) — this is where you’ll hear the rumours.

Dispel the rumours — this may be a tough task, but rumours thrive in an atmosphere of poor communication. Keep staff informed regularly with developments and news, limit the impact of negative rumours and if inaccurate rumours persist, make sure they are corrected.

Be as flexible as possible to their needs — offering options such as flexible working hours can make a huge difference to the motivation and well being of many people.

Make use of everyone’s creativity — when you’re looking for an extra edge or need to solve difficult problems, don’t forget that management doesn’t have the monopoly on good, creative thinking. Involving your workforce in problem solving helps them to feel actively involved in moving forward in the right direction.

Grow as a team, economise as a team — there is nothing wrong with getting staff help and input when economies need to be made. Often, those at the sharp end of a business can see overspend and inefficiency which management can’t — the only reason it doesn’t come to light is because of poor communication. Offering incentives for any savings made can help engage staff more quickly.

Keep the challenges fresh — there is every temptation to focus on all the bad news we are presented with each day, but individuals need to be reminded about focusing on their short and long term goals. Make sure that people feel a regular sense of achievement, that they receive good feedback when it is due, and that it is personal eg. when people show high levels of personal commitment to the business, make sure they know the particular quality of commitment is appreciated and recognised — not just that they are doing a good job.

Make the most of the opportunity – if the worst does happen and redundancies have to be made, ensure that remaining staff have positions they can grow into and are reassured. Help them to see the changes as a good opportunity for them as individuals. While redundancies present a difficult challenge, they do open doors for the remaining staff which wouldn’t have been possible before.

No single initiative can magically boost staff morale and motivation in these tough times, but a concerted effort on all fronts can help minimise the effect of stress and uncertainty.

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