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How To Keep It Together When Business Slows Down

June 22, 2011

By: Carletta Clyatt

Recessions and layoffs and bear markets! Oh my! Whatever happened to busy work days, job security, strong consumer confidence, and positive cash flows? How do you keep your “A Players” during these tough economic times? 

You need to take a proactive role when interfacing with staff. While staying safely tucked away with bottles of antacids, earplugs and blinders might sound most appealing, you need to admit to yourself that there are steps you can and should take in order to reassuringly lead your nail-biting work force and keep their productivity, morale and stamina as high as possible:  

Communicate  -  Be honest about what’s happening to the company’s bottom line. Seek input from staff members on what steps might be taken to avoid layoffs. Assure everyone that while you have a plan in place, the strategies are not carved in stone and can be amended to suit needs.  

Measure the Corporate Mood - Know how to read your employee’s individual personalities and convey your messages to them in words they can understand. Open, outgoing individuals will likely line up outside your office door and want to hold discussions. Be as encouraging and empathetic as possible, but do not make promises you can’t keep. Your future is probably, in many ways, as uncertain as theirs.  

A more reserved personality may not come to you readily. Prompt discussions, provide facts, and always appeal to his or her sense of logic. Avoid hype but be as reassuring as possible, offering frequent updates regarding potentially volatile situations that could impact that employee. When kept in the dark, employees’ imaginations take over, and it isn’t pretty. Periodic company meeting to address conditions and suppress rumors might be considered.  

The Survivors

If layoffs occur, expect the “survivors” to exhibit their shock or concern in many different ways. Your more assertive workers may be fairly vocal and bold about their dissatisfaction. Let them vent to you. Keep in mind, though, that employees who continue to slam your company will eventually demoralize the entire team and may need to be shown the door. The last thing you need are people who make an already bad situation even worse.  

Other employees may decide to prove to you how valuable they are by shifting to a higher gear and offering to take on extra responsibility. Be sure these workers don’t end up overextending themselves or making frequent mistakes. Monitor them. Get them to refocus on their core jobs by reminding them of their value to you. Be generous with “thank you’s.”  

Rightsizing Your Staff

An attitude of “When times get tough, the tough get going” will often times bring out the best in people. Downsizing (or “rightsizing” your staff) in response to a depressed economic outlook can provide unique opportunities for your staff to develop unknown teamwork opportunities and to cross-train. Try scheduling some team building activities or break larger departments into smaller groups, then track and reward that entire group’s productivity. Even if an employee is upset with the company as a whole, he or she may feel obligated to work hard for an individual team or fellow “survivors.”  

The Aftermath

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When the forest finally starts to clear and you're coming out on the other side, it’s likely you’ll have many more valuable employees able to contribute in ways they would not otherwise have been able. Helping your staff work through uncertain times is nothing short of a process. Don’t be lavish, but celebrate even small successes. Stay attentive and attuned. Think before you act. Display dignity and respect. The way you treat and respond to workers in difficult times may be what keeps them with you through thick and thin.

Be careful to not burn out your “A Players” and be sure to keep employee retention in mind so you don’t lose them.  Be proactive and consider a behavioral assessment to assist with employee development and motivation.   You can learn key elements to maximize your staff’s potential and improve both morale and productivity. If history is any guide, it shouldn’t be too long before you’re leading people through much better days!

Carletta Clyatt

Carletta Clyatt, a popular seminar speaker, is the SVP at The Omnia Group. She offers clients advice on how to manage more effectively and gain insight into employee strengths, weaknesses and behaviors. For more information about employee behavioral assessments, call Carletta at 813-280-3026 or email:

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