Monday, September 22, 2008

Helping Employees Cope with Economic Turmoil

With turbulence and turmoil in the capital markets, employees in all industries are feeling a bit anxious these days, both about their net worth and their job security. For good reason, employees find themselves distracted from their day-to-day work. It's very easy for rumors to spread in the workplace about potential problems at a particular company, as well as the prospect of layoffs. The rumors and distractions can have a serious detrimental effect on employee productivity. How can managers cope with this problem?

First, they must communicate even more often than usual. They have to be very transparent about the economic condition of the firm. Managers also need to provide updates as to how external events are affecting the firm's business, i.e. how does overall economic growth correlate with the firm's profitability? How does Wall Street's woes affect the firm's profitability?

Second, they must go to great lengths to educate the workforce about the financial drivers of the business and the current state of the business. Many employees will need help understanding key financial metrics, as well as key causes of stock price changes.

Third, managers must be brutally honest about the state of the business. Just as top managers never like to be surprised by bad news, so too lower level employees don't want to be shocked. People will appreciate the candor.

Fourth, don't let the remedies come out in dribs and drabs (if possible). It's much better to assess the whole situation and announce the entire regimen of tough medicine required to cure the patient, rather than issuing one prescription after another over the course of many months. The initial pain will be great, but then the company can move on.

Finally, managers need to be very proactive about rooting out and disproving false rumors that pop up around the workplace. Letting fears, doubts, and misinformation linger can be very harmful.