Human Resources News & Insights

Help managers keep their people motivated in uncertain times

It’s one of the biggest challenges a line manager can face: Keeping engagement, performance and morale high during times of change. And, Lord knows, there’s an awful lot of change afoot in American business today.

Change means different things to different people. To some, it’s perceived as an exciting opportunity, a chance to improve the status quo. But to others – especially those who don’t have all the information about the change at their fingertips – it can represent the frightening unknown, and lead to resistance and anger.

Bottom line: No one likes feeling changes are being forced on them. Yet sometimes that’s exactly how it has to play out.

Here are some strategies your managers can use to get employees on board – including several real-life examples:

Find out how they feel

Times of change are emotional. Many employees may feel sad or concerned about losing the old way of doing things. Others might be worried about shifting responsibilities.

Business consultant and Wharton professor Stuart Diamond says this is why the first step needs to be getting past employees’ emotional roadblocks.

In other words, find out exactly how workers feel about the change. Managers can ask probing questions (not just “yes” and “no” questions) to get at the heart of their concerns, then take specific actions to address them. For example:

  • If employees feel they were left out of the decision-making process and consequently feel slighted, make sure they have a part in future discussions.
  • For those who are sad about the impending changes, avoid glossing over their emotional response. Help them mourn the loss.
  • Make it clear that detailed training in new processes and procedures will be provided for those who are concerned they won’t be able to adapt.

Another good idea from communications professional Stephen Ruszkai is to outline the steps being taken and provide a timeline for employees.

Squash rumors

When big changes are coming, it’s crucial to tell employees about it right away. Otherwise, the office rumor mill will start grinding — and once it’s rolling, it’s hard to stop.

One manager at a South Carolina firm tries to tell employees about major changes the same day she hears of them.

When people think something’s being hidden, they become wary of what’s going on and are less likely to accept it.

For example, when her company recently went through a transition period, she had to deal with a staff that was worried about their jobs. Knowing there was potential for layoffs, she didn’t want to tell them they had nothing to worry about. She knew that would cost her all her credibility.

Instead, she focused on easing their fears by keeping them in the loop and giving them information on the company’s severance pay policies.

Beat them to the punch

Giving employees notice of possible changes before the changes are definite is the route one North Carolina supervisor takes with his employees.

By beating them to the punch, he feels they get time to adjust.

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