Will staff stick by you through the good times?

Smiley face on a card, being held up by businessman

Oprah Winfrey coined the phrase What I know for sure. Well, what I know for sure after working in recruitment for 17+ years, is that employees vote with their feet when economies improve after a rough patch.

By all accounts the Australian economy pulled up reasonably well after the GFC. Regardless, it’s been a nervous time with cost-cutting across the board and job losses across most big companies. In many instances teams of people have been carved in half. And here’s the rub – remaining staff have picked up the workload!

This week consumer sentiment reached a two-year high and that’s great news. It should provide stimulus for businesses to start ‘doing business’ again. And when that happens, employees who have pretty much stayed put, will polish their CVs and head for the door.

Australia has lost a bit of culture post GFC – that’s business culture – as all eyes have been on the bottom line. But lose your culture today and you’ll lose your people tomorrow, and bosses who’ve not handled the tough times well will be most exposed to staff churn.

Managing culture in tough times is tricky. It takes time, effort and it’s terribly confronting to tell someone they’ve lost their job. From an employee’s perspective it’s upsetting to see a workmate laid off, particularly in a close-knit office, and the natural thought process is to wonder when the axe will fall in their direction.

Smoothing the way

There’s a few concepts that can smooth the way: respect, support, fairness and collective responsibility. More than words, it’s about action. If these concepts are well harnessed by a business then staff may be more inclined to stick around when opportunity knocks.

Take, for example, cutting back staff. If a boss doesn’t handle it well and with dignity, then that tells a powerful story to the remaining employees about how they may be treated in the future.

Offering support to the person let go – because invariably they will speak about their experience to others – is key. For example, short term job hunting support could be provided including paying for their CV to be professionally updated. Recommending them for other jobs or providing contacts for a new job will be well received.

Remaining staff also need support in the new structure and will require the right tools and training to fulfil any new responsibilities they’ve been shouldered with.

It’s also about being fair and valuing staff whether through recognition or reward, financial or in kind, like offering them more flexibility.

Consult with staff

Businesses that go through massive change in better shape have positioned the change as a collective responsibility. They also consult staff and communicate regularly.

Generally people are change averse, particularly if they don’t understand the reasons why.

So it’s about communicating the big picture, the reasons behind any changes, and any upcoming milestones the business is trying to meet.

Group meetings are great to explain the collective responsibility as are casual one-on-one meetings with individual staff where they have can ask questions and delve more deeply into what the changes mean for them.

The old adage ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ is really applicable here. If you take the time to look after the day-to-day issues facing staff, and to work with them to find a collective solution, you’ll get a lot back in return.

They may even stick around with you through the better times too.

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