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Managing Your Team – Keeping Them Engaged through Uncertainty

By Frank Newman, President, Newman Human Resources Consulting

I overheard two gentlemen talking in a parking lot this early this week.  One guy said, “I just played my first round of golf this season, I’ve been waiting so long and it felt so good.  The next days, they announced they’re shutting down all the courses.  I can’t understand it – golf is such a solo game.  Why can’t they let me play by myself?”

If only we could… we would.

My golfer’s experience and frustration isn’t uncommon right now.  We’re living in unprecedented times.  No one on the planet could have anticipated six weeks ago that we would have closed down everything except essential services and be practicing this new delicate dance called social distancing.

Businesses are challenged to retain customers, create confidence in their services, respond to community needs and manage their teams.

The world of work has been turned upside down.   Job security and incomes are under attack.  Businesses are facing closures, unexpected layoffs, having staff work from home, deploying staff into other roles, forcing vacations, delaying hiring staff, and potentially losing their best employees to other jobs when the recovery starts.

In this time of great uncertainty, how do we ensure that we retain, nurture and inspire our teams?

Before we answer that question, let’s understand what we need from employees.  Ultimately it’s three things:

1)     We want them to be passionate about their work

2)     We want them to be committed to our organization

3)     We want them to do their best work every day.

In short, we need them to be engaged.   Studies have shown that having highly engaged employees generates 30% more profits; you’ll grow your business three times faster, and you will retain employees longer, reducing your turnover costs.

Our goal over the coming weeks is to keep your team as engaged as you can, despite the uncertainty we see today.

You may be facing several challenges with your staff – you may have laid off some employees, you may have others who are doing more work than ever, and you may be delayed in hiring staff, whether they’re co-op students, summer students or permanent hires.

Your goal through this process is to distinguish yourself as the employer of choice, both for the short and long term. Since you may be facing a number of scenarios, here are some tips to manage each situation.

Engaging staff who are still working

You may have some staff who have taken on additional duties during this period.  They may be doubling up on duties, or they might be working staggered shifts to help with social distancing.

Being present for them and engaging with them – virtually or personally (if you keep your distance) is critical.

Let’s reverse engineer this scenario.  One of the strongest reasons for leaving a company is a lack of appreciation, so a simple sincere thank you goes a long way.

Ensure you go out of your way to acknowledge them.  Using gift cards is a low cost way to say “Thank You”.  They are tangible and have an impact after you have presented them.  Even more effective is when you tell them to take their spouse out to dinner on the company.  Engaging spouses and family members gives you extra impact, particularly if you have to ask people to work additional overtime hours.

Don’t underestimate the power of a personal note.  In an age of technology, a handwritten card in an envelope has much more impact than a thank you email.  It’s tangible and people share it with others.  They keep them at their work stations.  The cards are seen and noticed by others.

Consider if you can afford some temporary salary increases.  For hourly staff, even $1 per hour can make a difference.   Many small employers have already done this to recognize staff that have gone above and beyond.

Share openly about the challenges your business may be facing.  Honesty and transparency, as well as being your authentic yourself, will increase trust.  You can also ask for their suggestions.  This is a great time to be listening and you can engage them in dialogue and creating solutions.

Retaining and engaging staff who have been laid off or delayed hiring

You may have staff that you’ve laid off or have to defer their hiring date, so you want to ensure that they remain committed to you and don’t accept another job that might start sooner.

As with remote teams, communication will be essential if you want them to come back to you.

You need to create a regular pace of communication, but don’t be afraid to think creatively.

Keep them posted on business updates – let them know what’s happening with your business –  share the big picture, make them feel proud to be part of your team.

If you’re thinking outside the box, send them an advance “welcome” package.   Ensure they feel part of your organization.  Providing them with tangible items, such as clothing, hats, mugs or other items, can be incredibly powerful, yet relatively inexpensive, when compared to the cost of recruiting and hiring new staff.  These items will be noticed by their family and friends which further reinforces what a great organization you are.

Final Point – Be Yourself

More than ever, staff are looking for honest and transparent leadership.   Be straightforward in your messaging, but don’t be afraid to share your concerns too.  After all, we’re all human.

Employees have amazing long memories.  How you treat them now will have a significant impact on your short term and long term Human Resources goals.  Everyone will remember how their boss spoke to them; how they were treated.   We’re in this for the long game, so this is the time to play your best to win.


About the Author:

Frank Newman is the President of Newman Human Resources.   He has been advising businesses on the best Human Resources practices for over 40 years.  His website is www.newmanhumanresources.com.