All businesses go through rough patches, and these periods inevitably lower the morale of your employees. Although you can’t avoid these difficult situations altogether, there are things you can do to minimize the impact on your employees’ happiness.
Here are some of the more common difficult situations businesses go through, and how you can keep spirits as high as possible when they occur.
The Business Is Going Through a Financial Rough Patch
There will always be times when money is tight, and this is understandably stressful for employees: the future of your business is the future of their jobs.
Here, transparency is vital. Don’t cover up the reality; don’t pretend things are going great when they’re not. Be up front with your employees – all of them, down to the most junior members of the team. Make your company’s financial information readily available should they wish to know the details.
Secondly, you need a plan. Your team will find it much easier to keep calm and trust you if they believe you’ve got a well thought out, measurable plan to turn things around.
To get staff invested in plan, involve them in its creation. Hold a meeting with your whole team and create a list of actions that will improve the financial state of the business. Lead, but don’t do all the talking – encourage everyone in the team to contribute.
By doing this, you’ll motivate the team by making them key stakeholders in the future of the business, not just a team in the dark, worried about the future of their jobs.
Once you’ve got a clear, established plan, keep your team updated with its progress. Make the plan available to them and report back regularly. If things improve, that’s great. If they don’t, find out why, and keep the dialogue going.
A Member of the Team Isn’t Performing
If one team member isn’t performing, this can have a wider impact on the sense of team spirit. It often increases the pressure on the other members of the team who have to pick up the slack, and it undermines the sense that everyone’s pulling together towards the same goal.
These situations are always delicate, and they need to be handled sensitively. An aggressive approach is rarely the right one, as it only further damages the employee’s morale and exacerbates their negative impact on other team members. Instead, try to find out the root causes of the underperformance. There may be something you have the power to change that would fix the situation. Maybe they’re going through a difficult personal situation, in which case an arm around the shoulder may be more helpful.
The Five-Whys technique can be pretty useful in these situations. Ask why five times, starting with “why is this person underperforming at work?” After five “why” questions, you should have a better understanding of the employee’s state of mind, and the reasons for their underperformance. With this insight, you can take a more informed approach to the situation.
Your Team is Thinly-Stretched
If you have several employees leave within a short space of time, or a sudden influx of work, the pressure on your team is bound to increase. Unsurprisingly, a sudden increase in workload doesn’t do much good for morale. Not only does it make your employees feel stressed, it also makes them feel like expendable resources rather than valued people. By rethinking the way this work is distributed among the team, you can offset the negative impact on their motivation.
You need to make your team feel connected to the work they’re doing. One way to do this is by asking each member of your team to work on each stage of the project. By working on the whole project rather than a narrow and repetitive stage of it, your employees are more likely to buy into the vision behind the work. This is a good approach at any time, but it’s particularly important when the pressure’s on.
It’s also important to highlight the significance of their work beyond improving the bottom line. Your business has a real impact on real people, both internally and externally, and each role in the team contributes to that in its own way. It’s easy for employees to forget this when they’re focused on simple and mundane tasks. Remind them of the wider benefits of their work to strengthen morale.
Finally, people want to work on things they’re good at and interested in. This becomes even more important when you’re putting your team under more pressure and asking them to deliver beyond the usual expectations. Too many employers make the mistake of evenly dumping tasks on members of their team without much thought. This is the easiest approach to take, but it’s the wrong one.
Put some thought into the strengths and interests of individual team members, and assign the work accordingly. If you’re not sure who’s good at what, set up a meeting with your whole team and involve them in the process. Explain to them the tasks that need to be completed and let them volunteer to take on the work they’re interested in doing.
This will soften the blow of the increased workload by turning the situation into an opportunity for development, not just a lump sum of mundane, ill-fitting tasks. It will also make your team feel more appreciated as individuals.
The key thing to bear in mind is that this is the worst time to stop communicating with your employees, even though the temptation is to focus purely on workload and organizational pressures. Be available, and let your team know that you’re available.
An Employee Is Going Through a Difficult Personal Situation
There’s no “right answer” when an employee is going through a difficult situation. The right approach depends on their personality and preferences, so the key thing is communication and understanding.
In many cases, it’s better to send them home. Give them some time outside of the demands of the work environment to address what’s going on. Don’t force them to come into work when they’re clearly not in the right frame of mind.
But don’t automatically take this approach. Sending an employee home when they’d rather immerse themselves in their work can seem unkind or dismissive, even if you’re only trying to help and support them. They may prefer to distract themselves with work, or they might benefit from the structure the working day provides. If this is the case, think of ways you can adjust their workday to make them happier and more engaged.
For example, suggest they work on a different range of tasks than the ones they usually do. Mixing things up and challenging them will give them something new to channel their energy into.
The main thing is to be available for them and to maintain a dialogue. Ask them how they would like to handle the situation, and work with them to create a solution that allows them to both give time to their personal life and keeps them feeling happy and motivated in the workplace.