How To Motivate Employees in Tough Times

Rudyard Kipling was right: keep your head when those around you lose theirs.

Being a leader means being able to handle the tough times.  It’s important to keep your head when others around you are losing theirs.  When sales are low, when you reach the floor of cyclical customer behavior, when a client takes its business elsewhere, it’s time for you to sharpen your skills and pull things out of the fire.

Here are some ways to motivate your employees during tough times.

Be in Control

What happens during tough times has to emanate from you.  You can’t brood distantly and let your (disgruntled) employees start running in all directions, making plans to leave, possibly undermining one another, etc.

You also can’t come across as being in denial or being disinterested because of a few setbacks.  First, acknowledge the problems (and often your employees won’t know about them if you don’t tell them, and you don’t want to risk being found out keeping secrets or not being transparent) and make it clear you’re on top of them.  Periodically update your employees on steps you’re taking and any progress.  This will discourage them from taking matters into their own hands and going off in counterproductive splinter groups.

Play to Your Strengths

This is the time to gain any victories you can, even if they’re short term.  If one of your salespeople, Becca, excels at bringing in new business, turn her loose on this project, even if it means moving some of her other accounts to someone else for a time.  If there’s a new idea your wing man, Jared, has been proposing but that you never had time for, this might be the time for it.  Because of your slump, it’s key to take a few traits of your strongest employees and turn them into any gains you can—don’t worry about solving the crisis in one dramatic sweep.

Manage Stress and Hide Worry

While above I said it was key to acknowledge problems and to be transparent, that doesn’t mean openly panicking in front of your employees or letting stress get to you.  Emphasize the idea that you are aware of problems and that you are working on them, be reassuring and encouraging of the small victories that are present.  But if you lapse into any serious, nearly debilitating worry, keep this from your employees.

Also, find ways to manage your stress—jogging, cutting back on caffeine, talking things out with friends—so that you are as pleasant as possible during tough times.  One thing that may be reassuring is that you’re not going through this alone.  The economy is still in rough shape and many companies are still feeling ripple effects.  Recently, Adecco Staffing US conducted a survey of 1,000 employees and bosses.  One of its findings was that 71% of bosses managing 11 or more employees felt more stressed than before the 2009 recession.  Thus, your stress isn’t unusual or unnatural, but a product of the age.

Out of Office

Getting away will help with some of the psychological factors, will cut the tension between you and your staff, and may open up some new vistas that may allow you to see things differently.  But there’s also getting the staff out of the office.  If business is slow, work load may be down.  You’ve probably tightened your belt to the point of not being able to offer raises or bonuses.  One way to turn this situation into the best possible circumstance is to give a few long weekends.  Morale is extremely important in tough times—it could end up being your most important asset.

As long as you’re keeping a steady hand at the helm with all the best intentions, you should be able to weather the storm.