Joblessness and the Employee Tipping Point

If the title sounds like a modern business fable, maybe that’s because we’re living in one: Employers slash jobs to manage profitability in the wake of a poor economy. Employers push managers to do “more with less”. Managers actually pull off the miracle. Employers start to rethink the need to re-hire and re-invest. Joblessness becomes the new reality. Employee morale, engagement, and job satisfaction plummet. Workers unite in battle during a bloody revolution dubbed “the 4 day Blackberry War”.

Okay, so I made up that last part. But everything else is a true statement on the modern state of the workplace. Yes, many of the difficult decisions employers made regarding workforce reductions and compensations restrictions were necessary. Yes, in most cases they achieved their desired outcome and stabilized performance. That’s not my issue here. It seems that during a time defined by paralysis, too many leaders are willing to risk inaction over action. And the results are increasingly disengaged and unhappy employees (see the ConferenceBoard report “U.S. Job Satisfaction at Lowest Level in Two Decades”:

From the ConferenceBoard report “U.S. Job Satisfaction at Lowest Level in Two Decades”

From the ConferenceBoard report “U.S. Job Satisfaction at Lowest Level in Two Decades”

Holding your existing employees hostage because they don’t have any other employment options is not a strategy. Employee’s who understood the business necessity, and even supported, the job/compensation/budget slashing actions of their employers, are quickly losing patience.

In the absence of a larger, more substantial organizational change, employers need to make positive improvements where they can:

  • Re-recruitment strategy. Identify the key performers with strong internal networks. Address their needs and concerns first as part of a re-recruitment strategy. This key constituency needs to understand Leadership’s strategy and buy into it. Building morale with this group and getting them aligned with Leadership’s vision will enable them to influence other employees and balance the decline of good-will.
  • Engage all employees. Most likely managers are still relying on a few key team members as their top performers. The organization can no longer tolerate a manager’s inability to engage and motivate team members who have traditionally been marginalized. These employees were originally considered qualified and competent when they were recruited. A lack of performance may be attributable to their manager’s improper positioning and treatment of them. Regardless of the cause, it’s time to eradicate the problem.
  • Direct and open communication. Yes, I am aware that this advice is old hat, but how many executives actually follow it? Leadership continually underestimates their employees’ abilities to manage the cold, hard truth. Not providing information inadvertently creates a negative reaction, and the distribution/creation of misinformation ensues as employees try to fill the void. Even if your plans for future reinvestment aren’t clear, be direct and open about that fact to employees. Keep the workforce abreast of the progress, even if there is no change.

Economic recovery is going to be slow and more difficult than we are all accustomed to. Right now all indicators point to employee dissatisfaction with how their employers are managing the process. Obviously there are constraints, but what’s being done today isn’t creating the positive momentum an organization needs to move forward.

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