The economic horrors experienced in 2009 will not suddenly disappear with the new year. Though there are more signs that the recovery has begun, it will take years before most of us are whole. If you are still standing, 2010 will be filled with new and trying challenges. One big one will be your workforce.
2010 will be a period of transition from survival to recovery and growth. For most, there is no more fat to cut in your organization. Employers have cut people, wages, benefits and programs. Employees who survived the layoffs are shell shocked, scared and tired—just like their bosses who had to make and execute these excruciating moves. Now employers must somehow begin to rebuild. Those that continue to operate in a hunkered down mode will soon find themselves behind the competition, having survived this crisis only to fail down the road.
To move forward, you need a strong, engaged workforce. Employees will need to give their all for you. Unfortunately, a number of surveys point to pent up frustration and anger among American workers. The layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs, and benefit reductions have taken a toll. Employee loyalty has been tested and many workers have indicated they will be looking for new employment when the economy recovers. Just when employees are needed most, they have become disengaged.
Now is the time to mend fences and work to reengage your workforce before you lose them to greener pastures. This will not be easy and it will not happen quickly. For those who had to make the tough decisions, but did so in an open and fair manner, they will find that workers will respond in kind. For those who treated their people badly, memories will be long and it will be a tough recovery.
Reengaging your workforce requires credible managers who inspire workers’ trust—and this may have been damaged during the downturn. And it also requires managers who genuinely care about their employees. When employees believe that their boss cares deeply about their well-being, then an engaged workforce emerges.
As the crisis begins to lift, managers need to talk to their people about it, including how and why they responded as they did. Lay out a clear plan for the future. Tell them how you are doing. Let them know if their jobs are now safe. Be straight with them. Seek their input on your plan. People appreciate knowing. They like these “state of the business” updates. They want to feel included, important and wanted.
Communicate constantly. Frequent, ongoing communication is necessary. Keep your employees focused on your recovery plan. Be confident. Show strong leadership. Make sure they see and understand the big picture and how they fit in. Get your people behind your plan. If you do, your success will come quicker and easier. Remember, people want to contribute; they want to be productive; and they want to be engaged. It is your challenge to win them back.
While the economy may be slowly improving, few employers are prepared to open the floodgates with new hiring, and hiring that will be done will be selective. The old recruitment strategies will have to change. Hiring will be focused. Clear definition of needs and criteria will be tighter. The selection process will be stricter. Only the best and the brightest will be selected.
For the existing workforce, as tired and stressed as they may be, they must increase their productivity in order for their companies to grow and remain competitive. Employers will have to be smarter. They cannot continue to push their workers. An engaged workforce will produce—but only if you take care of them. That means treating them right, giving them clear focus and direction, providing lots of flexibility and open communications, and yes, it may mean opening the coffers a bit.
Finally, it is essential to make sure that your star performers are fully on board. Stars make your organization soar. They are the ones who are committed to you and your organization; are the most productive; will do what it takes to get the job done; and will do it without a lot of fanfare. At the same time, the stars were impacted by the recession too and if they feel vulnerable or ignored, they will find work elsewhere and your competition would love to poach them. Do not make it easy for them to go. Now is the time to remind your star employees how much you value and want them. Smother them with recognition, pay, opportunities, and flexibility. Invest heavily in them. They are your future. Make them your priority.
The economy has been tough on everyone. We can collectively wish 2009 as resounding good riddance. The new year ushers in hope for better days. Do not let the new challenges inflict more pain. Make 2010 your year.