Unemployment levels are breaking all kinds of records thanks to COVID-19. Not only are the numbers high, but they represent industries that previously saw little unemployment, such as physician specialities, dentists and hygienists, business owners, and professional workers, as there are no elective procedures or ability to meet in person to perform a physical hands-on task.
Organizations are slashing budgets, which often means decreased salaries and/or removal of non-essential positions. People and organizations are running scared. Who can blame them?
As a leader, it is within your power (and your responsibility) to take steps to reduce fear and prevent an unnecessary drop in employee morale.
Statistically, the morale is going to drop with so many industries already affected, so be bold and reduce the damage of an unchecked plummeting spiral by quickly and authentically speaking your message.
This tack is much preferred to running damage control when the rumor mill has grown into a three-headed purple monster.
Even if you are insulated from having to cut positions for the time being, let your team know it. Don’t wait for bad news to start communicating.
The basic concept of maintaining integrity and keeping morale as high as is possible is to start small, dig deep, and move quickly.
If cuts need to occur, plan to do the following:
Give Intensive Effort
This is not the time to continue business
as usual. Cancel meetings and create
protected time to ensure your message
is exactly what you want it to be - this
requires wherewithal and deep, uninterrupted thought. You’re essentially
altering people’s lives and this should not be taken lightly.
Be Ebenezer Scrooge
A leader who is worth their salt will be able to pull data supporting each of their positions (and their own) at a moment’s notice. Ideally, the data are reviewed consistently (e.g., monthly) so there is a general familiarity with what data are
collected and what it demonstrates.
Think of your self as Ebenezer Scrooge
counting his money as you pour over
your data. These are your people.
If you do not have data readily available, it’s not too late to start collecting it.
Unless you’re extremely practiced at
conveying crucial messages or bad news, seek out respected mentorship of
someone who has more experience than
you. Use them as a trial run of your message and show them the data
available to you. Incorporate their
feedback and hone your message.
Strategize With All Leaders
Now that you have your message in final draft form, gather together your
leadership team. This is important as a united front is key. Staff are frequently more comfortable asking questions of their immediate supervisor than the main boss, so provide your leadership team with the same message and data as a resource for questions that will arise. Solicit and incorporate their feedback, then select a meeting time with the entire team.
All Hands On Deck
This needs to happen very quickly after the leadership team meeting. The longer you wait the more likely the rumor mill will have additional fodder to fuel its morale-crippling fire.
Ensure everyone is available to join in person (or at least on video chat) so they
can see your non-verbal expressions
and you can see theirs. This is the time
to be raw and real. They need to know how rough this conversation is on you and how much they mean to you individually. But don’t belabor this point because this is not about you; make it authentically and poignantly then move on to the heart of the message.
The message itself needs to be short, broad, and should include what to expect next. If you’re announcing lay-offs or pink slips, there is no need to identify which positions will be cut, but just that some will have to be cut. Give a short timeline for next steps.
Ensure the team that cuts will happen quickly (not happening in phases) and you will always inform them of any next steps. There is no need to leave them wondering if or when the next shoe will drop.
Know this process is going to be painful for all involved, and taking the steps to reduce the pain by communicating early, authentically, and often will speak volumes.