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How to Stay Motivated During a Crisis at Work
By Harriet Meyerson

Susan works at a large firm that is in turmoil, and she is frightened. Rumours of a buy out have spread like wildfire. Strange people from another company are walking around. Management hasn't said anything because they're not sure the sale will go through.

Nevertheless, Susan doesn't know how the takeover will affect her job - or whether she will even have a job when the dust settles. She is a single mom with two children who depend on her income for food and shelter.

Mary lives in a town of 15,000 and works for a company that employs most of the townspeople. The company is downsizing its staff. The downsize list comes out on a designated date every sixty days.

Mary's husband also works for the company. Together they have bought a house and made a nice life for themselves and their four children. Mary knows that the downsize-list date is right around the corner, and she is deeply worried that her husband may be on the list. Since the company is the only major employer in the town, he may not be able to find another job there. They would have to sell their house and move to another city leaving behind both family and lifelong friends.

Karen works for a corporation that downsized two months ago. Karen feels fortunate to have held onto a job, but with fewer employees in the office, she has to work twenty hours extra each week. The heavy workload is wearing her down. She doesn't have enough time to take care of her family, and she is tired and irritable all the time.

When a crisis appears on the horizon, most of the traditional methods a boss can use to motivate employees fly out the window. Bonuses, extra vacation days, contests, and awards … almost no incentive can pry loose the grip of an atmosphere of uncertainty.

What employees lose when there is a crisis in their company is a sense of security. They may panic for the good reason that their very livelihood is at stake. Their career is, for a time, out of control. Their stress levels skyrocket, and they have trouble concentrating on their work. If these fears aren't addressed many employees may jump ship to a more secure job.

So what can companies do to keep employees motivated at work during a crisis? Here are four important courses of action. (If you are not in management, but are an employee whose company is going through a crisis, show this article to your supervisor.)

1. Communicate.

What's going on? Don't keep employees in the dark. Because employees are frightened by states of uncertainty, they need to know as much as they can about the nature of the crisis. If they are told less than the whole truth, they will likely imagine the crisis to be much deeper than it actually is. Hold meetings. Send letters. Tell them as much as you know. Even if they don't like the truth, they will trust you more for telling it.

2. Reassure.

Tell your employees what steps are being taken to make their jobs secure or to help them find another position if their job is likely to be eliminated. Hold "Change" workshops to steer them through the transition.

3. Listen.

Bring in an outside facilitator to help employees vent their fears. Many employees who have been through a company crisis have said that this is one of the most helpful tools their company used to keep employee motivation high. The employees often didn't realize that other employees felt as fearful as they did, and talking about their fears in a group made them not feel so alone.

4. Celebrate.

After you have done steps 1, 2, and 3, and have addressed the seriousness of the crisis with your employees, hold a "Weathering the Storm" party. A few hours of fun in the midst of chaos can relieve tension and convey the feeling that management cares about the morale within the office. Although a party will not alleviate, say, the company's financial problems, and the results of the company's restructuring will remain, it will add a dimension of humour to the tense atmosphere, and a feeling that, no matter what happens, the team will survive this because they’re in it together.

So go ahead and plan that party, because laughing at the dark days can strengthen the cohesiveness of the team.

By taking these four steps, you are doing the best you can during a difficult situation for both your employees and your company. You are helping your employees handle the traumatic stress of the crisis, and you are demonstrating in concrete action them that you care about the financial security and physical well being of each of them.

But there's one more thing that is very important, you are building a relationship of trust, and your employees will know that they can depend on you to be there for them down the road.

About the author: Harriet Meyerson, president of The Confidence Center, works with companies that want confident, loyal, and happy employees, and with individuals who want the confidence they need for success. Harriet is a member of the National Speakers Association and the author of Fire Up Your Staff on a Shoestring Budget.

Visit the Confidence Center web site for - Free employee morale newsletter. Free articles on employee success and personal confidence. Free articles for your company or association newsletters. Seminar, and telephone coaching information. Free daily fun stuff. http://www.ConfidenceCenter.com 
E-mail: Harriet@ConfidenceCenter.com

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