Adaptation to counter adversity or seize opportunities drives companies in most markets these days. Working models are revisited; functions are relocated; processes and systems are amended; costs are saved. While the evolution is often necessary, it’s also disruptive, particularly to employees.
In these times of transition, employee engagement is mission-critical to keep business momentum and continued productivity. Measures that have become common responses to a setback, such as permanent hiring freezes, eliminating salary increases or reducing pension fund benefits, often trigger the kind of employee behavior that can aggravate the setback, especially when compensation decreases as the workload increases. Sometimes it generates tension between departments, prompting silo behavior and finger pointing. Employees are anxious and they are focused on the wrong things.
Meanwhile, at a time when a company needs to be talking on a personal level to its employees, management communications often fixate on numbers and financial results. Yet, there are very few employees who come to work each day driven by the commercial performance of their company. Workers want to spend the dominant part of their days in an environment that gives color to their life and is defined by human interactions and intangible elements such as collaboration, innovation and creativity.
A famous French filmmaker once said: “Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” How right he was, particularly for companies trying to stay connected or reconnect with employees at a time of stress. During these times, corporate conversations ought to be driven by the corporate culture—what the organization values—rather than dominated by climate—what the employees are experiencing.
When a company is rife with rumors, conversations will often be characterized by anxiety rather than confidence. Questions like “Why wasn’t I told?” or “Am I next?” or “Are you telling me everything?” are being voiced more than employees wondering, “What can I do to help?” In those time, employees have every reason to doubt what they are being told, especially if they’re only given an opportunity to voice what they fear. Management needs to change the nature of the conversation.