When the economy is down and employees see less work coming in the door, they get nervous. When there are rumours of layoffs or employees have actually had to say goodbye to some of their peers, they get anxious. When cost-cutting makes them feel they can no longer do their job well, they feel discouraged. How management deals with these situations can affect how nervous, anxious and discouraged they become. Management’s challenge: keep motivation high despite the low economy.
Understand what motivates people
There are many theories on what motivates people. Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs focuses on safety, self-esteem and self-actualization. This theory was not specifically designed for informing management practices. Many theorists have since turned their attention to business. Here are two for your consideration.
David McClelland’s theory of needs looks at how one’s life experience affects needs which, he says, fall into three categories: achievement, affiliation and power. This “Three Needs Theory” is believed to impact a person’s motivation and effectiveness at work.
Achievement – Those motivated by achievement tend towards higher risk projects because of the higher payoff. They need feedback to know that they are achieving and prefer to work alone or with other high achievers.
Affiliation – Those with a need for affiliation place more value on good relationships than achievement. They want to work with others.
Power – Whether they want personal power or power within the organization, they typically want to organize things and people to reach certain goals. This is valuable in managerial positions.
Jon Katzenbach, researcher, consultant and author of such books as Why Pride Matters More than Money and Peak Performance, suggests that the real factor that affects motivation is pride. Pride is gained from feelings of accomplishment, approval and camaraderie. These are similar to the three needs identified above but are interpreted a little differently.
When it comes to recession and the necessity of layoffs and cost-cutting, Katzenbach and co-author Paul Bromfield suggest in Energizing Employees in Recessionary Times that motivating employees is possible with a “Proud To Be Thrifty” mindset. They write:
“no one should pretend that headcount reduction can be as intrinsically motivating as other business experiences, and managers at all levels will still have difficult decisions to make. But the motivational approach to cost reduction involves employees committing emotionally to the cost challenge. … “
Katzenbach proposes that nurturing employee pride can be more effective in implementing recessionary strategies than mandating them from above.
Putting the theories to work
Maslow’s identified need of safety may appear to be a difficult one for management to offer employees in tough times. However, the theories of McClelland and Katzenbach can help.
McClelland looks at different motivators for different people: achievement, affiliation and power. Katzenbach looks at pride as a main motivator for all people. Key to acting on both these theories is communication and employee engagement. Your employee plan should include:
- Full staff meetings and team meetings to ensure that employees all receive the same message.
- Communicating with specific employees according to their individual motivators.
- Recognize those motivated by achievement for their achievements.
- Ensure that those motivated by affiliation continue to have opportunities to share good relationships with co-workers.
- Give those driven by power the opportunity to run with a project.
- Speak of accomplishments as well as challenges. Give people things to be proud of.
- Make sure the right person is doing the communicating. Senior management should not hide behind a proxy. For employees to trust the message they must trust that the messenger is fully informed.
- Be visible, present and open to communication informally as well as formally.
- Stay upbeat and positive about the results your recessionary strategies will have.
A multi-prong approach to motivation
Motivating employees in recessionary times requires more than just good communication. You can also:
- Lead by example. Stories of cost-saving leaders such as Ikea’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, are legendary.
- Streamline organizational inefficiencies before cutting staff.
- Look to your employees for innovative ways to cut costs. It may be time to establish an award, or reward, for cost-savings strategies by individuals.
- If cuts are being made, make sure that they are fair. People have a strong sense of what is fair and morale will decline if they don’t seem to be.
- Give what you can. It may be worth investing in a local gym membership or some equipment and allow people time off to work out – this is a bonus and a stress reliever for anxious employees.
- Find easy, free stuff to do: If sales are slow and you have more time than money, an afternoon off for a softball game and a barbeque can be a great team builder and morale booster.
When you do have to deliver bad news
If you have bad news to impart, don’t couch it. Employees see through that.
- Speak clearly, concisely and with compassion.
- Treat exiting employees with respect.
- Allay fears and concerns of those employees that stay.
- Create a talent bank and stay in touch with employees you let go so that you have easy access to trained talent in the future.
- Watch everyone carefully as you speak. Try to recognize misunderstandings and set them straight on the spot to minimize the rumour mill
Find the good and focus on it
Doom and gloom can create a downward spiral. Look for good news and focus on it. Whether it’s the acquisition of a new account or the 10th anniversary of an employee, find good things to appreciate and enjoy them.
No one wants tough times but those companies and employees that ride the recession through are usually better for it. Manage your recessionary measures with the future in mind.