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The ABC's of Employee Trust

As the wave of downsizing continues in today’s rocky economy, the resulting uncertainty among your “surviving” employees may be reflected in their attitudes and productivity. These are your “best of the best” employees, your most valuable and essential players, and although they may look the same, no one goes through a downsizing event unscathed.

Knowing this, you need to act quickly to help your survivors remain productive and committed. A new term making the business rounds these days is “survivor sickness,” which is generally described as a profound shift in the perceived employment “contract” between workers and employers. The symptoms of survivor sickness manifest in employees as a sense of fear, guilt, anger, depression, insecurity, stress, and denial. They have an overwhelming sense that they can no longer trust the company. However, without that essential trust, no company can survive.

In any post-layoff plan, the first challenge you need to alleviate is the employees’ lack of trust. You can control this loss by applying management techniques that allow you to coach your employees through this trying time. Realize that coaching is not just for athletes and can be very effective in the office environment. When you coach your employees, you are better able to take advantage of their strengths while helping them understand and correct their weaknesses. Your employees will be grateful for the immediate feedback, and your involvement helps to build trust, inspire loyalty, and determine training needs.

For greater success during this process of coaching and regaining trust, encourage your managers to follow the “ABCs of Employee Trust Building”:

Acknowledge the pain in the organization -- Empathize with your employees as they struggle to cope with the changes that have happened in the corporate environment. Allow your employees to express their true feelings, and listen to their concerns non-defensively. Many times employees will be fearful of the new job duties they will have to take on in the absence of others. To alleviate this fear, provide a variety of training opportunities, whether online, in the classroom, or on-the-job, to help employees manage new responsibilities with confidence.

Additionally, when you see and hear their resistance to the changes, help your employees overcome it by sharing information with them. When you involve people early in any changes that might affect them, they will feel more committed to the changes and to the organization. Everyone is more likely to support changes they had a hand in creating.

Begin anew -- Keep working and moving the business forward. You may want to re-emphasize short-term goals and remind the survivors of the company’s vision. If the vision has changed in the midst of the downsizing, share the company’s new vision of what can be. With a vision, you can create the future and achieve success. If people are reluctant to embrace the vision, help team members see it in their heads. Describe what the big picture will look like and their individual contributions that will make the vision a reality. When they have a clear picture of what can be, they will develop a focused direction and will be motivated to act.

Collaborate with your employees to achieve the desired outcomes. Actively solicit their ideas and contributions as a way to involve them in the company’s future plans. Such a practice will foster bonds and encourage them to solve problems and seize opportunities. It also never hurts to schedule some fun activities, such as company luncheons or weekend picnics, to boost morale. When you bring joy back in the workplace and create a positive environment, people will enjoy their work, laugh and smile often, and be more productive despite the fewer resources.

Construct and communicate a plan -- Work with management and employees to organize a planning team that can anticipate future challenges and help eliminate possible future downsizing initiatives. Once you have a plan finalized, get out in the trenches and communicate it so all employees know their roles as well as what measures the company is taking to rebuild. Doing so builds commitment and helps your survivors feel inspired to forge ahead, believing they can endure and eventually thrive as a company.

An essential part of the plan is to show team members that you are committed to the organization. Speak highly of the company and its future whenever you can. It will make team members proud of the workplace. Also, make yourself available to your employees. Frequently show interest in their work and let them know they make a difference. Acknowledge and recognize employee contributions on a daily basis, not just at the end of the year or project. The more you plan, monitor, adjust, and communicate to keep the company’s goals in sight, the better your chances for retaining your committed crew of survivors.

Build Trust for a Better Workforce -- Just because downsizing has taken place doesn’t mean you can forget about employee retention. While the recent economic downturn may have you thinking you are back in control of the job market, your best employees may lose trust in you and have a dose of reality waiting for you when the economy turns around. Be alert to employee discontent and mistrust, and take steps to openly communicate your understanding of their frustration and your desire to retain them.

Going through a corporate downsizing is not fun for anyone involved, including your survivors. But the transition will be less painful if you apply these ABCs of trust building. They will allow you to not only prevent but also cure “survivor sickness” so that you can begin to turn your “Survivor Island” into a future corporate paradise.

This article may be reprinted for your use in an organizational newsletter and or e-zine provided that you contact Kelly Hanna, Director of Sales and Marketing at 724-942-7900 to gain permission.

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