Crash Course in ... Keeping your staff engaged

When the recession began, you thought at least it would keep everyone on their toes. Instead, your staff look demoralised and their productivity has declined. People aren't putting in the extra effort. How can you keep them onside?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Show that you have a plan. 'People are looking to you for leadership, to be more confident, more certain than they are,' says David Pendleton, chairman of Edgecumbe Group. 'Emphasise the things you can do, the fact that you are not all impotent or helpless. Otherwise, you will get depression and helplessness in return.'

Be open but be realistic. 'A vacuum in communication will quickly fill up with rumour and speculation,' says Lesley Allman, MD of Allman Communication. And Mike Emmott, employment relations adviser at the CIPD, adds: 'If you don't know the answers, say so - you will get marks for trying.'

Do it in person. 'Face-to-face communication is always better when times are hard,' says Emmott. 'Use your line managers - they are a much-neglected resource and more trusted than senior managers.'

Involve your people. In good times, self-managing teams play a key role in creating engagement; in bad times, people still need to feel that they can make a difference and that the work they are doing is meaning- ful. 'Having some input is a huge factor in people's ownership and sense of engagement,' says James Brooke, director of Threshold Communications. 'Feeling that you are listened to is a basic human need.'

Show your compassion. If you have to make people redundant, demonstrate that you've done your best. 'Measures such as showing that you have looked at alternatives to redundancy, that you've helped with outplacement, will influence survivors, because it shows that you treat people fairly,' says Emmott. Offering support, helplines and good healthcare demonstrate your commitment to your values and help keep your employees committed to the organisation.

Redefine success. There's some evidence that success breeds engagement, but success measured by the usual parameters is hard to achieve in a climate where everything's going down the tubes. 'Don't make people responsible for things they can't control, but create a formula that should lead to success. And create targets they can hit,' says Pendleton.

Offer recognition. Whether it's through that employee-of-the-month scheme or just a pat on the back, show people that you appreciate the discretionary effort they put in.

Keep on celebrating. 'Applaud every small success, whether it's a piece of business gained, or a member of your team winning an award or passing an exam,' says Allman. And why not have a party, an awayday, or a dress-up-in-school-uniform day? People perform better with a smile on their face.

Do say: 'We will be honest and open with our people, and show them the way forward, but we will also be realistic about our prospects during this downturn.'

Don't say: 'We're all doomed.'

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