Keeping Employees Engaged during Difficult Times: Communication is Key.

During an economic downturn a lack of job security can have a negative effect on employees. Not only can this adversely impact employee morale, it can have a wider impact on the culture of a workplace and, in turn, organisational performance. So what can organisations do to maintain engagement levels when change is required?

One way to maintain engagement during change is to alter the way in which employees perceive change. According to Goodman and Truss (2004) the first step to gaining buy-in for change is to effectively communicate to employees the need for change and that adaptation is necessary in order to survive difficult times. Another important component of communication is including those likely to be affected in discussions identifying ways in which to minimise the negative impact of any change. Among other things, allowing employees to explore how they can directly or indirectly add value to the service the organisation provides is likely to help maintain engagement by increasing feelings of empowerment. Aside from its positive impact on engagement, including employees in discussions aimed at increasing efficiency may also result in the identification of new ways of working that were overlooked during more stable times.

Goodman and Truss (2004) also found that both the process and the content of a communication strategy significantly impact the success of change initiatives. Informing employees of change and the need for it in advance is crucial in reducing uncertainty. Not only is the timing of the message important, but so is having a clear idea of what you are hoping to communicate through the content of the message. Goodman and Truss (2004) provide the following as common examples of the purpose of such communications:

  • Obtain individual buy-in
  • Obtain commitment to the change
  • Minimise resistance
  • Reduce personal anxiety
  • Ensure clarity of objectives
  • Share information/vision
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Obtain clarity
  • Minimise uncertainty

 So, research suggests that having open and honest communications with people is not only a useful way to maintain an engaged and motivated workforce during stable times, but even more so when job insecurity is at the forefront of many people’s minds. What are your thoughts?

Goodman, J., & Truss, C., (2004). The medium and the message: communicating effectively during a major change initiative. Journal of Change Management, 4, 217-228.

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