5 Ways To Keep Employees Happy And Engaged In Tough Times

You can't fool your employees—they know when times are tough. But if you show you care, they'll stay happier longer.

With the economy at a low point, many people feel trapped in their jobs, seeing dim prospects for better opportunities outside their present situation. On the surface, this may seem like an ideal situation for companies, bringing down turnover costs. But there's a hidden underside that's not so positive.

When the economy is in high gear, unhappy employees can easily move on. Now they stay in their jobs, bringing down the productivity level and morale of the organization. To counter this and generate more buy-in from your staff, here are five things you can do.

1. Be consistent and open in your communication.

If people are kept in the dark about what's going on, they will make up their own version and it won’t be a positive one. Instead of avoiding, minimizing or trying to hide a negative situation, tell it like it is. Trust that staff will understand and appreciate being informed. Not disclosing will only breed mistrust, suspicion, and fear.

2. Give employees a chance to weigh in on decisions.

It's harder to develop loyalty to a large impersonal organization than to a small, close-knit group in which everyone clearly sees the impact of their decisions on those around them. The more decision making is left in the hands of those affected by the decision, the better. If cuts have to be made, let the people affected by the changes have a say in what and how to cut. This keeps people more involved and gives them a greater sense of control about the decisions affecting their lives.

3. Offer opportunities for development.

Every situation has a positive if we look for it. Maybe there is time available for staff development, training, and team building activities that the hectic pace of having lots of business didn’t allow before. Use a slow time to be creative. Look for ways to develop skills that staff have an interest in, but did not have the time to focus on before.

4. Ask for feedback and act on it quickly.

Asking staff for feedback and help during difficult times should not just be a public relations exercise, but a way to make the most of your employees' ideas and talents. If you have asked for feedback before and done nothing with it, employees will be distrustful and suspicious.

Unless you are sincere and genuinely interested in hearing from staff and plan to actually use their feedback, you're better off not to ask for it in the first place. If the information is useful and can be implemented, act on it quickly. If it is not feasible, thank them for their efforts and explain why it can’t be implemented. Assure staff they have been heard and their feedback will be given real consideration.

5. Share a long-term plan and focus.

Difficult times don’t last. While it is important to put effort and energy into getting through them, it's even more important to see past them to a brighter future. That means it's crucial for everyone to maintain hope and a vision beyond the present. Keeping employees constantly informed and involved in long-term thinking and planning for the future helps lift spirits and prevents knee-jerk decisions that could come back later to haunt you.

[Image: Flickr user sdaponte]

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  • "Be consistent and open in your communication." This statement could not be closer to the truth when it comes to the workplace. Here at Onboardly, we work in an office of five ladies - and there is nothing short of bonding time within those 8 or 9 hours at the office throughout the day. We find joys in taking breaks and catching up on each others lives. In order to keep productivity and motivation at its highest, we reflect on our week with a feedback tool called 15Five (15Five.com.) It is a 15 minutes questionnaire that team leaders create for employees to fill out and it takes team leaders five minutes to review. In our case, our team leaders make the questionnaires professional but fun. There are questions like "What was the funniest thing that happened in the office this week?" It is a great tool to reflect on your work week and create and maintain those professional relationships and friendships, if you're lucky to work in such a great office environment!

  • Great post, Harvey. It's a nice short article on one of my favorite topics: Job Happiness. The one thing that I might caution about with the popular "5 things to do" messages is that the causes of 'unhappiness' is varied across individuals and organizations. Sometimes it's just one big glaring gap like not sharing the long term vision (#5 above). Implementing the five things may fall flat unless we first assess the root causes of unhappiness among employees.

    The dirty little secret about this is that those causes change and shift over time... it's a moving target that requires ongoing monitoring and specific actions as issues emerge.

    In general, I love the five things you outline because they are very common causes of job unhappiness which leads to disengagement, turnover, and other nasty stuff.

    Jeff DeWolf, Wolf Prairie LLC

  • Scott McDonald

    I have experienced this situation not too long ago. If upper management exercised #4 and #5 (coupled with #1), the situation would not have been as dire and the outcome less chaotic. Communicate with your employees so they can, ultimately, make an educated, well-informed decision. Some may choose to leave during the tough time, some may stick around and do what is necessary. Having your staff take ownership is a big step towards recovery.