Managing employees during tough economic times

Managing a group of employees during good economic times can have its ups and downs. But what about supervising a group of workers during layoffs, downsizing, and furloughs? The negative effect on worker morale and productivity can be overwhelming. The following toolbox can help managers stay positive and keep employees motivated.

Managing employees during tough economic times

Honest and Frequent Communication

Keep employees notified of global economic impacts for the organization. Set regular meetings with employees to answer questions and keep everyone informed.

Dena Uding of the California Department of Water Resources says open communication is key. When potentially bad news is about to break, Dena says sharing the known and unknown facts with staff first helps keep rumors from spreading. Being honest with employees also means not being afraid to say the answer is not yet known.

Recognize Signs of Stress

Good managers regularly look for signs of stress in employees. First-level supervisors have the best read on whether an employee is undergoing stress and make sure to communicate each day about non-work topics, to assess employee stress level. Look for these early warning signs of stress at work, published by the Mental Health Care Consumer Connection:

Sleep Disturbances
Difficulty in Concentrating
Short Temper
Upset Stomach
Job Dissatisfaction
Low Morale

Plan Work Tasks Ahead to Reduce Stress

Employees who have had a pay cut or who are nervously awaiting bad news about the economy will already be under more stress than usual. Employees who are working on a furlough schedule will not have as many days to complete tasks. Productivity and morale can suffer. As a supervisor, help by planning work tasks ahead and sharing long-term milestones and weekly due dates with employees.

Distributing Workload Effectively

Managers distribute workload on a daily basis, and delegating tasks becomes routine. Some employees have more difficulty multitasking under stress than others. Have employees develop and suggest strategies for tackling large tasks. Encourage overwhelmed employees to break large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks, or share responsibilities with other co-workers.

Managing employees during difficult economic times is very challenging. Recognizing stress in employees can be more of an art than a science. Feeling out of control about the economy leaves workers with low morale and productivity can suffer. Communicate honestly and frequently, learn to recognize the signs of stress, and plan and distribute workload in advance of major deadlines. Remind employees to use assistance programs to access free financial and emotional counseling.

Good Management Practice During Uncertain Times

At all times, good management is vital. But during recession or economic downturn – where the threat of redundancy is high and morale is low, job certainty is bleak, and workplace stress is maximised – the importance of good employer and supervisor management is critical. Good communication, motivation and employee care are vital skills that will need to be employed in order for the workforce to maintain productivity.

The Physical Effects of Decreased Morale on Employees

Economic downturn and recession places a large strain on the vast majority of people – not only financially, but also mentally and emotionally.

The University of Colorado report by Moore, Grunberg et al entitled “Physical and Mental Health Effects of Surviving Layoffs: A Longitudinal Examination,” (2003) published that there was an increase in physical and psychiatric illness in employees that survived repeated rounds of redundancies but watched their colleagues leave: “Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies report increases in self-reported physical and psychiatric morbidity, including

increases in self-reported neck and back pain;
increases in certified sickness absence;
increases in eating and Body Mass Index.

Other researchers have noted the tendency of some individuals to turn to mood altering substances in an attempt to cope with such job-related distress.”

Characteristics of Good Management

Langford (“Strategic Management in Construction,” 2001) lists the characteristics that a firm would need to have in order to be successful at managing change:

Senior managers need to be perceived as committed to clearly defined goals, and a ‘clear vision’ of the future of the company;
A clear concern for staff welfare;
A history of effective change management;
A good market knowledge and ability to use staff to their most effective potential;
Effective planning systems had been implemented to review the future strategic options available to the firm.

Good management is being able to recognise and react to the knowledge, experience and feelings of the workforce affected by change. Reductions in staff numbers means those that remain are subject to longer hours, a higher workload, and increased job insecurity.

It could be perceived that those who have retained their jobs during a round of redundancies should be grateful that they have been spared, but many may feel abandoned, threatened and stressed. This in turn results in decreased morale, so another challenge facing management during uncertain times is that of increasing and maintaining morale within the workplace.

Furthering the Business during Economic Downturn

Whilst a recession does adversely affect any company in a number of ways, it also provides opportunities for good strategic management in increasing business and honing methods for creating new business opportunities.

Survival in a spiraling market is all about adapting to circumstances better than the company’s competitors. Other avenues for revenue and cash retention can be explored, and – with the help of strong planning – can lead to additional income.

Another proven strategy to maximise resources whilst exploring new opportunities is to form working parties to work aggressively on one aspect of he business or one particular subject, such as Value Engineering.

Economic downturn is a time when good management is of the utmost importance. High anxiety levels and low morale amongst employees calls for various management strategies to be effected in order to combat the reduced performance that this brings, as well as maintaining high workplace morale and meeting stringent company targets.

Effective strategic management is also critical to ensure that the business is steered through the difficult economic climate with minimum damage and change and is in a strong position once the market improves.

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