How Far Is Too Far

Assuming you haven’t been living in a biodome for the past two years with no access to the outside world, you know that the world’s economy is going through a rough patch. Okay, maybe “rough patch” is a bit too mild…maybe it’s more like a soccer field covered in steel wool, but you know what I mean.

In fact, you probably know people who have been laid off, downsized or transitioned in some way. And of those who are still working, many are now doing jobs for two or three people (with no increase in pay) due to the aforementioned layoffs, downsizing, etc.

In such a climate, you’re caught between the proverbial rock and hard place: on one hand, there are limited resources coming in and you have to make the most of what you do have; on the other hand, your staff may be overworked, overstressed, and afraid of losing their jobs. And in that situation, it can be hard to keep them encouraged, motivated and focused on the work at hand.

So how can you, as a small business owner or manager, motivate your employees without driving them over the edge?

First, let’s look at what it feels like to be a business owner:

  • We’re sympathetic (and sometimes empathetic) toward those folks who are out of work, wishing that we could offer them help in the form of a job.
  • We can sense that those who are still working for us are stressed about the health of the company. They see the shrinking numbers in terms of dollars in the door and bodies in the building, and they may even see the leaders of our company looking worried too…which causes them more concern.

We also see that our hardworking team is feeling the added stress of working longer hours, trying to do more with less and looking for ways to be even more efficient than they had been…all while worrying about their families, their bills, making all the ends meet…Motivating a staff that is already taut with tension isn’t impossible, though it may require a different kind of approach than you’ve used before. But the payoff is worth it: employees who feel appreciated during difficult times are more likely to be loyal when the economy improves. So, take heart! You could uncover some outstanding employees in the next few months, and those are worth the effort.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you need to push your staff without pushing them over the edge.

  • Be generous where you can be.
    Although you may have limited funds to spend on team-building activities, it’s important that you recognize your internal folks; after all, they’re critical in getting your work done. Show your appreciation in ways that are low- or no-cost: offer flexibility in working hours if you can do so, organize a weekly potluck so your team can spend time relaxing together, or just say, “thanks…job well done!” to someone who’s helping the team effort. Simple things really can go a long way to encouraging the troops.
  • Be honest with your staff.
    After all, if you’re a small business, your employees know when something’s going on. It’s in their best interest to help you and your company weather the storm, and they may have suggestions on ways to save money and build your business. You don’t need to show everyone your G/L records and financial statements, but give them the big-picture view and be willing to ask for help when you need it.
  • Don’t compromise your standards.
    No matter what the rest of the economy is doing, it’s still important that you adhere to the same principles your company has always promoted: listen to your clients…anticipate their needs and your market’s fluctuations…pay attention to the details. Remember that this “downturn” will end eventually, and when it does, you’ll want your clients to be as loyal as they were before it all started.

What tips have you found helpful in motivating your staff during this economic slump? Email me at adamatgladworks.com to share your experiences.