Employee Activation
3 Ideas to Drive Employee Engagement During Difficult Times

3 Ideas to Drive Employee Engagement During Difficult Times

March 3, 2020
4 min read

Your employees are the most important asset in your organization. Investing in employee engagement means more than just implementing initiatives to keep your employees happy. Highly engaged employees are the driving force behind any successful organization. When your employees truly believe in your company values and that the work they are doing is important, they’ll go above and beyond to help achieve your mutual business goals.

Employee engagement is important at all times, but even more so during difficult times of economic stress or other pressures on the business. At the same time, it is much harder to keep your employees engaged during these times when the main focus of your leaders may be keeping the business afloat, and everyone is feeling the additional workplace tension and pressure.

All businesses go through ups and downs. But, only those that learn how to ride out the difficult times will succeed. And, a huge part of this is keeping your employees on board, believing in your vision, and working together as a team to come out the other side.

Quick Takeaways:

  • All businesses go through hard times. Those that succeed will overcome challenges to ultimately build stronger teams.
  • Demonstrate your employees are valuable, especially in times of economic crisis.
  • Communication and honesty are critical for driving employee engagement.
  • Focus on your company values and put them at the heart of everything you do.

Triumph Over Adversity

So how do you drive employee engagement during these difficult times? It’s certainly a challenge, but smart organizations use adversity to their advantage. In relationships, it’s often the case that a tough situation will either drive people apart or bring them closer together. This is just as true with business relationships as it is with personal relationships.

We can look to the military for examples of how strong leadership and employee activation enable challenges to strengthen teams rather than pull them apart.

Military organizations such as the US Marines have to live and work in incredibly tough conditions. Marines have to work through massive mental and physical challenge, all with the pressure of knowing that there’s a huge amount at stake if their mission fails.

Officers in the US Marines build employee engagement by demonstrating empathy and putting the needs of their team before their own. Every member of the team knows that they are supported and valued, and the team believes in their goal and is passionate about achieving it together. There’s no time for one-upmanship or workplace disagreements when you’re on the battlefield.

Image source: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/building-team-bonds.aspx

You may be thinking this is all very well when you’re literally in the trenches, but how can we take lessons from the military model of employee engagement and apply it to the corporate world?

1. Commit to Your Employees

When facing serious financial difficulties, many businesses look to make savings through cutting staff. During the global economic crisis of 2008, an estimated 2.6 million people lost their jobs in the USA alone.

Payroll is likely to account for a major portion of your business expenses, so making layoffs can be a way to quickly claw back some cash for a struggling business. However, when you do this, you’re not only losing your valuable people but also throwing the entire organization into an atmosphere of tension and fear as nobody knows who will be next.

Of course, job losses are sometimes an inevitable part of saving a failing business, especially if salaries were too generous or the business was overstaffed in the first place. But, showing your employees they’re valued, even in times of financial difficulties, is a sure way to build employee engagement.

Cutting leadership bonuses, freezing recruitment and pay rises, reducing the use of agency and contract staff, and making better use of flexible working are all potential alternatives to layoffs that will show your employees you’re fighting on their behalf. International conglomerate Honeywell opted to ask employees to take unpaid leave instead of temporary “restructuring” to stay afloat during the recession.

2. Communicate Openly and Seek Employee Feedback

Much of the tense workplace atmosphere and dip in employee engagement that many organizations experience during difficult times can be blamed on a feeling of helplessness.

Employees feel that they’re completely at the mercy of the decisions of C-suite and that nothing they do will have any impact on their eventual fate.

Give your employees their sense of power back by showing their ideas and opinions are valued. Even the most junior of employees could come up with an idea that could help to save a failing business.

Take away the “us and them” feeling by ensuring there are open lines of communication between upper management and employees and being open and honest about the challenges the company is facing and the plans in place to overcome them.

Image source: https://medium.com/swlh/10-communication-secrets-of-great-leaders-90a834310c5b

3. Refocus on Your Core Values

In challenging times, it’s easy to lose sight of the organizational mission and values when everyone is focused on survival. But, during these times, they are more important than ever.

values-based culture is one of the cornerstones of employee engagement. People will not go above and beyond to work for a business that cares only about making money. However, they will put in extra effort if they believe that their efforts are contributing to a greater good.

Your company mission statement and goals don’t have to be ambitious and lofty – not every organization is trying to save the world, and that’s okay. But, go back to basics and refocus on the core values at the heart of your organization.

Defining your company values costs nothing, but it gives every employee a focal point to steer their work activities and decisions. For example, McKinsey & Company bases its culture around three core values:

  • Adhere to the highest professional standards
  • Improve our clients’ performance significantly
  • Create an unrivaled environment for exceptional people

Your values may be more abstract. For example, you might want to define your values as something simple as “integrity, quality, and passion.” Or, you could take a leaf out of Google’s book, who uses “don’t be evil” as a core principle of their employee code of conduct.

In any case, your values should be clearly and regularly communicated to your employees, and they need to be infused into your culture ­– you need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk!

So what do you think? Please consider picking up your copy of my book Mean People Suck today, and get the bonus visual companion guide as well. Or check out our services to help evolve your culture. And I would be thrilled to come present to your team on the power of empathy. Get in touch with me today!

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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