IN THE good old days, employees believed that hard work and dedication would guarantee job security, while employers believed that a regular paycheck would inspire employees to corporate loyalty.
But in the wake of restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, layoffs and re-organisation, neither of the aforementioned beliefs hold true in today’s corporate climate.
As organisations grapple with the fallout of these actions, what remains is a lingering distrust that can damage company morale and minimise efficiency in the workplace.
The work environment teems with a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity as organisations undergo change and transition. These changes can often result in a “corporate malaise” or a period of downtime when employees cannot concentrate on their jobs. This threat to productivity occurs at the very time an energised work force is critical to the organisation.
If employees are continually on tenterhooks for fear of being retrenched and are constantly preparing to move on, what can leaders do to re-engage, re-energise employees and rebuild that crucial trust?
Human capital management consulting firm DBM has worked with over 7,000 organisations and 250,000 individuals annually to manage difficult and important business and career transitions, and in its experience, in the aftermath of organisational change, it is often not “business as usual”.
Following any significant change, organisations often face the daunting challenge of re-engaging their talent to achieve higher performance levels. Leaders can use several techniques to do this:
Organisational communication requires clear, frequent, timely and consistent messages that are repeated to minimise doubt and fear caused by uncertainty.
Employees need to know what is expected of them, whether future layoffs are a possibility, and what the organisation is doing to help co-workers who have lost their jobs.
Open communication can ease the trauma associated with organisational change and goes a long way toward rebuilding trust, and ultimately achieving organisational business goals.
Leaders have a responsibility to help displaced workers cope with the loss of their jobs and get re-established in the job market by providing training, severance packages, extended benefits, and career transition (outplacement) assistance.
In many instances, how the organisation treats its exiting employees directly influences the way remaining employees as well as potential talent view the organisation.
Help “survivors” thrive
Leaders need to acknowledge the emotional needs of survivors — they may experience feelings of guilt, anger, confusion and anxiety.
Sometimes, managers focus so much on the difficult task of terminating employees during organisational change and on the change itself, they neglect or simply do not understand the importance of helping retained employees move forward.
These are the people, after all, that the organisation is relying on to create improvement and establish the new desired state. Star performers and high potentials, in particular, need to understand that they are valued and that the organisation is committed to their development.
From the other end of the spectrum, employees too, have to develop strategies in navigating change and a mindset that enables them to remain flexible and responsive to changing economic activity and competitive realities.
In that light, it is essential for employees to continually review their own values, skills, talents and goals against changing needs and make adjustments if and where necessary.
William J. Morin, in his book, Trust Me, coined the workplace concept of “non-dependent trust”. That is, ideally, employees understand that should business conditions or strategic directions change, their services may no longer be required.
In return for this understanding, the organisation agrees to support, assist and encourage employees to perfect and maintain their “employability” throughout their tenure with the organisation.
This is increasingly crucial as the traditional role of the organisation — providing people with a job-for-life — no longer exists. Now, trust has a language — and leaders and employees alike need to learn to speak and communicate in that language.