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How to reassure your people in tough times

Allen Associates, News & Blog

The amount of change we’ve experienced in recent months is unprecedented – and with change comes uncertainty. It’s little wonder that over half the Oxfordshire-based HR decision-makers that responded to our recent Covid-19 HR Impact survey said that dealing with wellbeing and mental health, and keeping people motivated and productive, were their biggest challenges.

So in the midst of negative headlines, mixed messages and a pervading air of doom and gloom, how do we help our employees to stay positive and encourage them to look forward? These are tough times and we don’t pretend to know the answers. However, having weathered two recessions during our 22 year history, what we do know is that a positive attitude goes a very long way.

We thought now might be a good time to explore some of the issues and highlight a few areas of good practice that might be helpful.

Pay attention to staff concerns

Many people have found the last few months extremely difficult. Some may have lost close family or friends. Some may have had to juggle full-time work with home-schooling, and others may have had to deal with the emotional or financial fall out of being furloughed.

An immediate priority for leadership and management teams is to listen to colleagues and staff and find out how they are feeling. What are their common concerns and how can you address them?

We know that many sectors have been badly hit by the coronavirus. We also know that many workers will be fearful of losing their jobs. Staff who have increased anxiety about job security or the future of the business they are working for may become anxious and less productive. Back in 2008, during the last recession, Personnel Today featured an interview with Derek Irvine from recognition solutions provider Globoforce, who said:

“Companies with high employee engagement show a 50% differential in operating income over those with low engagement scores, making engaging employees critical for company success – especially when a company is struggling for margins during an economic downturn.”

We may be twelve years on from this interview, but the statement still rings true.

Ensuring strong leadership skills

The businesses that will be best placed to retain their people and keep them happy, loyal and motivated, will be those that have been able to demonstrate effective leadership and have led by example.

When trading conditions are tougher than normal, senior managers often become preoccupied with survival techniques. They may be so focused on what they are trying to save or develop, that they forget to pay attention to what stood them apart in the first place. If managers are trying to find new business opportunities, then they have less time to focus on staff. This may result in teams becoming demoralised and unsure of themselves, and unsubstantiated rumours may begin to travel and so the downward spiral of discontent and anxiety begins.

If managers’ roles are increasingly taken up by business development activities, then they may need to delegate people-related line management tasks to others. Even if priorities have changed, responsible businesses still need to recognise the efforts that staff are making and show their appreciation. They also need to find ways to support their employees’ personal development, encourage them to upskill and take a more active role in the business.

Last week, we provided advice on how to get the most out of your teams when workloads have decreased and discussed the importance of involving all staff members in business growth opportunities. Strong leadership is about ensuring that all employees feel involved and valued. Keeping them strategically focussed and pulling in the right direction makes good business sense.

Remember to communicate a clear vision

Good communication is vital – the more difficult the times, the more regular the communications. People need to hear from the leadership team on a regular basis and this communication should be consistent, authentic and truthful. It is important to share the organisation’s vision and make everyone feel like they have a role to play in achieving it.

“In the current economic climate, things are changing quickly. This inevitably means that decisions need to be made speedily. This new environment often creates shifts in corporate strategy and direction. Employees need to know where the organisation is heading, how it aims to get there, and what their role will be in achieving this if they are to remain engaged.”

Source: Ipsos Mori, Briefing 1: People Management During the Recession, Published: 2008

It’s hard to believe that 12 years have passed since the last recession. This report published by Ipsos Mori has a useful section on people management, and these insights can be hugely beneficial to those smaller firms who may not have the benefit of dedicated HR departments.

The report provides a clear eight-step guide to improving employee engagement via communication. This can be used as a starting point to guide your internal communications strategy.

Communicating difficult decisions

If you are at the point where you feel that redundancies and job losses are inevitable then it’s important to consider how you are planning to communicate those decisions. It’s not just about the people whose roles may be at risk; it’s also about supporting the ‘survivors’.

“The objective is to minimise the stress on employees who are departing while promoting an image of care and minimising the impact of the redundancies on the morale of those remaining.”

Source: People Management

The key is to be open and transparent. Staff need to feel confident that they understand the rationale for any job losses. They need to know that it’s nothing personal. They also need to believe that you still care and that you still appreciate the work that they do, up until the very last moment of employment.

If you’re unsure of how best to communicate redundancies, then the checklist provided by People Management may be a useful starting point. As well as providing insights into the legal ramifications of redundancies (such as ensuring that selection criteria are fair and non-discriminatory), it also provides useful advice on what to say, and more importantly, what not to say.

With over 22 years’ experience recruiting for permanent and temporary roles at all levels within HR, Marketing, PA/Administration and Finance, we are ideally placed to support you with all aspects of the recruitment process. If we can help in any way, please get in touch with us at

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