To keep employees motivated, you are dealing with their fears and anxieties—both about the well-being of America and the security of their own jobs. To put their feelings in perspective, perhaps you might think back on a difficult financial time of your business, a time when even meeting payroll was in question. Somehow you survived. Your business today is living proof of your survival instincts. Think back on the enormously high level of anxiety you experienced. Resulting from current events, many of your employees are experiencing those same kinds of anxiety levels in both the areas of national security as well as job security. Everybody has some feelings of helplessness. We all want to do something to help our country, and in a way that will create value for others—not just doing for the sake of doing.
Many people, and not just in urban environments, are also truly questioning their safety and security. A recent Wall Street Journal article on worker’s needs in cataclysmic times quotes David Stum of Aon Corp.’s Loyalty Institute as saying that, “Bosses who ignore or rebuff basic needs will see employee commitment and output fall.”
Not all people deal with stress, sorrow and anxiety in the same way. Some are more resilient than others. To help you understand levels of resilience in people, I recommend you read Linda Nash’s fabulous book titled, The Bounce Back Quotient.
Linda suggests that you help your employees, as well as yourself, to take control of what you can in this turbulent time. She believes that to the extent you take control you will reduce your stress and powerless feelings. Linda says that you can’t control what happened—you can’t fix it—you can’t turn back the clock. “Your world has changed without asking your permission,” states Nash. She continues, “Begin to take action—small is OK. Send a card, listen to someone who is grieving, take him/her food, hold a hand, give blood, attend a religious service, bake some cookies, volunteer, or assist in any way you can. Process your emotions but don’t allow them to take total control. Do something!”
Linda warns employers not to expect to go full speed back to normal. She says, “You may feel unusually tired or listless. Do what you can to regain your balance and take on usual tasks. Eat properly, take a walk, visit friends, get enough sleep, go to work and begin focusing your thoughts elsewhere.”
For the people that tend to be more emotional, they express their feelings. But, for people that keep their feelings bottled up inside—daily, they could be teetering on the breaking point. The key message in this article is: To keep your valued employees, it is crucial that you help them in the way THEY need help rather than how YOU think they need help. Please stop now and cement this idea in your head. Acting on this understanding is what will make the difference between high and low productivity in these difficult times.
It would also be helpful for you to have an understanding of the heritage, generational and historical culture of your employees. If you are a middle age Anglo and all of your employees are middle age Anglos, and from the same small town, that is one thing—but more likely, there will be a generational and cultural mix. There is never a one size fits all solution for people of different heritage and generations, yet sometimes there can be some general solutions that will help many.
As example, Carlos Conejo, author of Motivating Hispanic Employees, says that in times of stress, Hispanic employees need to be more involved in decision-making and problem solving. He suggests that you open more widely your channels of communication with your Hispanic employees.
Corporate psychologist, Dr. Barton Goldsmith suggests that to help your employees in turbulent times, you must understand the grieving process. He says, “After a significant crisis, every person and every company needs an adjustment period. Companies that don’t make room for this psychological necessity find it more difficult to move ahead. Encourage and support your people to recognize and experience the loss, even if it’s the loss that comes from giving up the ‘We’ve always done it this way’ syndrome. Grief includes five key stages (denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance) that may come in any order except for acceptance, which is always the final stage. Guide your family and your team through the process, giving them room for their feelings to be expressed. Make sure to do the same for yourself.”
I recommend that you pay close attention to the six employee need areas listed below. Please understand that not all your employees will need attention in all areas. Some might not need any attention at all while some could need attention in several of the below listed areas. Your role in helping your employees is to keep your eyes open to their special needs. It might also be helpful for your employees if you could communicate your willingness to help. Perhaps a memo or posted notice stating that you are available to help them in this difficult time would make it easier for them to approach you about their needs.
Employees Motivated That Need Support
Some people, in turbulent times, need a bit of a crutch on which to lean. You, as an employer, very well may be that support mechanism. In times when people need this shoring up of their fortitude and morale, they could also need additional guidance. President George W. Bush, during his September 20, 2001 address to the joint members of Congress provided America with both an emotional and moral compass. You as an employer can make a big difference in the lives of your employees by providing, on a daily basis, the same emotional and moral compass.
Employees Motivated That Need to Reassess Their Priorities
A good number of people are taking a closer look at their life and how they have selected their priorities. It is common, following a critical event in one’s life to reassess. You can help your employees by being open to the changes they select. You may find it necessary to allow some people, which have been deeply affected, to transfer into a new position or set of responsibilities. Be open to the possibilities.
Employees Motivated That Need New Challenges
Some employees may feel a need to share in the leadership role. This might help them to have some sense of control in their lives. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Harvard University conducted several employee productivity studies at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works. At that time they concluded that people were more productive when they had some control over their work environment—the same is true today. Perhaps an employee could head a new project, take the lead in learning a new technology, or even participate in management meetings representing the rank and file employees. Donnelly Corporation of Holland, Michigan has had great success worldwide for several years with the idea of employee representation.
Employees Motivated That Need Guidance and Mentoring
Most people, sometime in their careers, need some guidance and/or mentoring. Living through tragedy can amplify this need. As perhaps you are, your employees, especially GenXers, are in the process of sorting things out—emotions, feelings, priorities and other issues. This is the time for you to shine. Help your employees by sharing your successes, and failures. Show them the path to improvement and success. Not only will it make you personally feel good, it will help their productivity. If you help them so well that they want to start their own business, become their partner. I watched Bruce Scott, owner of a burglar alarm company build his network using this method. I also watched him net a fortune for him and his partners when the business was sold.
Employees Motivated That Need a Cheerleader
Cheerleading, at all times, and especially now is a crucial element in successful leadership. Periodically, everybody needs to be told how valuable he or she is to an organization. Some need this reinforcement more often than others. In turbulent times it is so important to show your pride in your employees. Perhaps now is a good time to push their creativity buttons and cultivate their star power. Give your employees the opportunity and tools to amaze you. Many just need a bit of direction and a pat on the back and they’re off making things happen. And, when they do amaze you, acknowledge and reward their accomplishments.
Employees Motivated That Need To Be Left Alone
While I realize that it might be difficult to understand that some people need to be left alone to deal with issues in their own way without assistance or guidance, it is true that some do better this way. Their behavior might manifest as something that resembles work avoidance or hide and seek behavior. Be sensitive to their issues, and if you must involve yourself, this is the time to use the carrot rather than the stick.
I believe it essential to repeat that the important key in dealing with your employees and helping them through, and keeping them motivated during these turbulent times is to focus on what THEY need, and how THEY need it, rather than imposing YOUR cultural, generational and empirical experience on them. Stepping back and viewing a situation through a new window can, at times, be difficult for even the most caring of employers. Yet, it is what you have to do.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.