Now What? Managing Well After Layoffs, Recessions and Other Corporate Stressors

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You better start loving up your employees.

As we begin to recover from the economic downturn, organizations will be relying on their workforces more than ever to help them return to stronger financial performance.  But with recent studies showing that fewer than 1 in 3 employees are engaged and as many as 55% are passive job seekers, the risks to organization performance are significant if companies are not prepared to actively reengage disaffected employees.

And that’s going to take a lot of love.

According to the research, companies with engaged employees—those that are fully involved in and enthusiastic about their work—have been shown to have higher levels of retention of talent, customer service, individual performance, team performance, business unit productivity, and even enterprise-level financial performance.  The research has also shown that emotional factors impact employee engagement four times as much as rational factors.  Recognizing this fact will be essential for managers because no matter how your company has fared during the last 18-24 months, employees everywhere are emotionally drained.

Layoffs, the threat of layoffs, tight and shrinking corporate budgets, stressed bosses, tense workplaces, fears about economy’s impact on personal and professional life.  These factors have our reptilian brains in high gear as we try to process the fears that are being triggered by this environment.

There are profound implications in Antonio Damasio’s research.  Emotions drive much of our decision-making processes because they allow us to mark things as good, bad or indifferent.  Our emotional responses to situations become memories, many of which are subconscious.  This means that we don’t just remember the facts; we remember our emotional perceptions of the facts.

So, given that even in the best workplaces fear has been running high, it’s no wonder, as the above statistics report, that employees will be, at best, indifferent to their jobs coming out of this economic period.  That’s not necessarily the fault of you or your organization.  It’s part of living in this time.  Nonetheless, it shouldn’t make us complacent.

To drive corporate performance, it is more important than ever to improve the level of engagement and begin to build back positive emotions.

And that brings us back to the love.

Creating employee engagement is about something more important than giving employees a $10 Starbucks gift certificate . . . although that can’t hurt.  The strongest driver of employee engagement comes from believing we are valued and involved.  That’s about some simple and very important things:

  • Listening.  Employees need to feel able to voice their ideas and that managers value their contributions.  That sometimes means managers have to hang in there even when the view is voiced as a cheap shot or some other negative emotion.  Listening to understand and show empathy for the emotion helps employees move beyond the emotion and feel understood and accepted.
  • Accepting.  Employees need to feel like you see their strengths as valuable and that you see their shortcomings as valuable, or at least a neutral part of an otherwise terrific package.  We get great performance when we help employees leverage their strengths for the best overall contribution.
  • Involving.  Employees need to feel involved.  Involve them by over communicating and increasing transparency.  Involve them through problem-solving.  Best of all, involve them in decision making.

Helping employees get engaged during and after change requires that we create a workplace environment that builds positive emotional memories.  And the best tools to help managers do this are those that build relationships, gather insight and create opportunities for employees to shine.   This helps you not just get the most, but the best, from everyone in your organization.

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