Special Series – How to Negotiate Tough Times: Part 2 – Dealing with the Current Crisis and Your Employees

With the current economic volatility, the market changes, the travel restrictions, the politicians, and the current reports of the COVID-19, the uncertainty feels like the aftermath of Sept. 11. Like then, most of us felt out of control with so many bad things seem to be happening all at once. This e-Tip addresses negotiating positively with your employees.

Dealing with Your Employees in Tough Times

How do you get your employees, direct reports, and team members to focus on work when the market, the economy, politics, and health concerns have everyone frightened? How do you encourage people to be productive when their emotions are vacillating between rage, dismay, hopelessness and financial worry? It is not an easy task. The major challenge is to control what you can. You can control your reactions to this tragedy. If you have management authority, people are looking to you for your response. Here are ways to restore peace and productivity to your workplace.

Give people time. This is a shock and it is ongoing. Many are worried about their own health or that of loved ones. They are seeing money invested for the future simply disappear. People may need more frequent breaks. There will be a lull in productivity. More sick time may be used. Expect it.

Encourage employees to get help. If you have an Employee’s Assistance Program (EAP) or counseling services, encourage people to use them. Some of your employees may suffer from stress. Others may need to deal with co-workers, clients, patients or family members who are suffering from health issues or have lost significant amounts of money or find themselves without a job. With the constant conjecture from the media, you may also want to consider limiting TV watching and personal Internet use during lunch and break times.

Stop the gossip and speculation. People will need to talk, and there is a need for information. However, too much time spent talking about health issues, financial affairs, or the political climate is not productive. Remind employees that there are smart people in charge of making those difficult decisions, and they are working on the proper response.

Consider bringing in outside help. If your work environment seems to be suffering, you may want to bring in a stress-management counselor. If productivity is low, you may want to hire a facilitator or expert to help people focus on what the current health environment or financial crunch means to your business. Right now you and your employees need to think about your future.

Seize this time to retool.  Often the first budget cut is employee development and training. Reconsider. This is the time your people need to connect most to deepen relationships and gain new competencies. Many professional speakers and executive coaches work virtually. Remember those peer mastermind and mentoring programs you’ve considered? This may be the time to activate those ideas and start seeking internal mentors. Consider a virtual book club, virtual strategy sessions, or conduct stay interviews. Seize this time to retool for the opportunities to come.

Clearly convey your travel policy. With the new travel restrictions and concerns, make sure you communicate clearly with your employees. Let them know what constitutes approved travel, what can wait, and what precautions to take. Don’t make them guess whether they should go or stay. Give employees guidelines and options so they can make informed decisions.

Find the good news. You may have to listen and look harder for good news. Offer prizes for stories which discuss the good in the world or your community. Have a cause that people can rally behind. Consider sponsoring a clothing drive, donating blood, raising money for the disadvantaged, and writing encouraging cards to health care workers or those serving in the armed forces.

Sing the praises of the heroes. People are taking extraordinary measures around you to support both the health of the community and to keep businesses  going. Others continue to perform acts that are unrelated to current crisis. There are servant leaders helping the homeless, others are offering services following natural disasters, and many are concentrating on making our world a better place. Internal and external volunteers who continue serving others, even during this chaotic time, deserve to be recognized.

Focus the attention on the good that is being done. Communities are pulling together and are helping people they have never met. Experts are working to create solutions and provide access to current information.The increased efforts to make facilities cleaner and protect patrons is creative and heroic.

Pay attention to your attitude and response to situations. As a leader, all eyes are on you. People are watching your body language and listening to everything you say with scrutiny. You do set the example and the attitude for the office. Communication from key people is critical at this point. Tell your employees that although you don’t know all the ways this may affect the business, your organization has survived worse situations. 

Encourage your people to continue working as a team. It is everyone’s job to solve problems. They all must pull together and do what can be done to gain additional business and retain the business you have. There is a need to stay healthy and watch where you spend your time and mental energy. Recovery will rest on staying positive, finding creative solutions, and working with determination until these problems are solved.