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Empowering Your People in Uncertain Times

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We are living in an unpredictable world, particularly in business. Recently, I have spoken to several HSE Managers who have used the term ‘challenging’, ‘difficult’ and ‘unsettled’ – all understandable.

As we enter an economic downturn, training budgets are often the first things to be slashed. While companies may have to tighten the purse strings, history suggests it’s a mistake to do away with effective training and coaching.

Let me give you an example. Last summer, we were asked to deliver training within a specific department of a company. The SHE official stated that ‘they were not taking accountability for safety. Safety conversations were non-existent. And don’t ask about near-miss or hazard reporting. It just doesn’t happen. They say nothing ever gets done. If we can make a change then here, then we can roll out the training site wide’ That was the brief.

To cut a long story short. Many of the employees said ‘this has really made me think differently about safety’. Some said ‘the best training I have ever attended’ They shook our hands and thanked us, which is wonderful. More importantly, they became more engaged in safety. Safety conversations and reporting significantly increased and incidents reduced massively.

However, it won’t be rolled out across the site as there is no budget.

My point is this: From experience when finance and accountants start to dictate health, safety and well-being training it becomes a dilemma.

If you’re interested in keeping employee motivation, morale, and engagement high, despite the dilemma, here are some things you can do to keep your people determined and inspired during difficult times:

If Employees Are Overwhelmed, They’re Not Engaged

At the risk of stating the obvious, motivated, determined and inspired employees are more likely to be engaged than those who are stressed out and overwhelmed. Employee engagement, the desire to contribute to one’s employer’s success, requires energy and interest. Overwhelmed, beleaguered employees don’t have the energy or the interest necessary for engagement. Their attention and limited energy are focused on trying to make it through another day. Employees in survival mode usually aren’t thinking of new ways to provide value to their employer.

Employee Engagement is Most Important and Most Challenging to Achieve in Difficult Times

The importance of employee engagement cannot be overstated, especially during difficult times.

If you want maximum employee engagement you need to know how to assist your workforce’s ability to handle the following without becoming stressed or overwhelmed:

  • Major change
  • Uncertainty
  • The daily pressures, demands, difficulties, and frustrations of work life

Actions That Lead to High Levels of Employee Engagement and Motivation During Challenging Times:

Give Employees As Much Control As Possible Over Their Work

Decades of research on stress has shown that the degree of control an individual has in a difficult situation is the #1 factor determining how stressful they find that situation. The more decision-making authority employees have in their work and the more they can determine how to execute the directives passed down from senior management, the more pressures and work demands they can handle without becoming stressed.

Giving employees as much control over their jobs as possible also accomplishes what every manager should seek to accomplish:

Create an atmosphere where employees think and act like small business owners

Small business owners are “Can do” people.

The more you design your employees’ jobs so they replicate that small business owner experience, the more confident, involved, and entrepreneurial your employees will be – just what you need during difficult times. You do this by designing as much decision-making authority and flexibility into their jobs as possible – according to their skill, experience, and maturity level. You also help them think and act like a small business owner by coaching them on how to solve their own problems.

Help your employees build self-efficacy – it is the belief that one can effectively face a challenge or master a task.

Building self-efficacy is like strength training – you grow stronger through challenge. You can help your employees develop if you:

  • Give employees stretch goals and assignments that challenge them.
  • Give employees opportunities to lead projects.
  • Give them as much self-rule as possible.
  • Challenge them to solve problems, rather than doing it for them (and coaching them on how to do this.)
  • Make sure they have the tools, resources, and training they need to exce.l

Making sure your employees have the opportunity to feel the success of their achievements, which is especially important during times of change and uncertainty.

Getting the chance to make a difference leads to a greater sense of control. Being involved in a successful project builds confidence and creates a more positive emotional climate. This is especially important when major changes come from senior management and frontline employees have had no say in whether the initiative happens. While strategic decisions are understandably driven by senior level executives, frontline employees should be given as much clear communication as possible in the operational execution of these initiatives.

Doing this activates two of the most powerful factors that mitigate stress: control and self-efficacy.

Keep the dream alive and celebrate your wins 

The more your employees believe they are part of a great company and that they are making a difference, the more inspired and courageous they will be in the face of adversity.

And Talking About Communication

We know from research that ambiguity, i.e. “not knowing”, is right behind lack of control as a major factor determining how stressful people find difficult situations. Wisdom tells us people have an innate fear of the unknown.

The more “in the dark” your employees feel about what’s going on, the more likely they are to assume the worst. Therefore, along with giving employees control and plenty of opportunities to succeed, removing as much ambiguity as possible will make a huge difference in how comfortable with change your workers will be.

Likewise, if employees have faith that you will let them know what’s going on as soon as you know, they’re far more comfortable with all the things they and you don’t know. Because so much during uncertain times is unknowable, it’s important to get this right.

Thus, during difficult and uncertain times, amp up your communication. How? Ask your employees what information they want and the best ways to get it to them.  Do it face-to-face (even if it’s through Team’s, Zoom, WhatsApp) as much as possible and allow for Q&A. As a percentage of employees are not comfortable speaking in groups, make sure you make it clear they can ask in private.

Strengthen relationships

Research on stress and health has shown that people with strong relationships are more resilient. They overcome traumatic events more quickly, they are less likely to get sick, and more likely to recover from life threatening illnesses.

Therefore, the stronger the relationship between workforce and management, and among your employees, the more resilient your company will be. You foster strong relationships by modelling teamwork, respect, caring, and authenticity.

Fight the natural tendency many people have during difficult times to ‘streamline’. Don’t become a grim, no-nonsense, all-that-matters-is-the-bottom-line character. Research shows that when employees believe their boss and their employer cares about them, they are far more productive and loyal.

Remove Unnecessary Sources of Stress

There’s no need to add to the stress that an economic downturn or uncertain times bring. You don’t want your employees spending their precious energy and coping resources struggling to overcome ineffective processes, ridiculous rules and policies and other obstacles that make it hard from them to do their jobs well.

Smart employers, even in good times, ask their employees about what they, the employer, does that frustrates them, makes it hard for them to do their work well, or just adds unnecessary aggravation.

Would you like to know more about our services?

Contact Neil on:
Cheshire 01928 515977 or London 0203 773 2736 E:
W:   Safety Culture Team from SOG Ltd

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