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Top Four Questions to Ask When Managing During Uncertain Times and Five Strategies to Cope

Summary: Companies face mergers, restructuring, and buyouts all the time. Find out how you can help your employees during these times in this article.

Here are four questions you should ask when managing during uncertain times.
It probably began as a rumor. An employee is enjoying lunch with a co-worker when she hears her friend utter the most feared words in the business world:

“Have you heard about the restructuring?”

Their heartbeats quicken, they start to sweat and visions of unemployment forms dance through their heads. And like most people, their first question is:

“Will I have a job when the dust settles?”

Whether it stems from a buyout, merger or reorganization, there’s nothing quite as nerve-wracking as the possibility of losing one’s job.

When changes in business necessitate organizational changes, it can create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Spherion researched this matter, extracting the most common employee fears. It hoped to find positive actions that management can take to try and ease a person’s fear during this difficult time. Through the use of focus groups, it came to light that employees have four main areas of concern.

1. Will I have a job in the new organization?

It’s the question that will pop into your employees’ minds first and rightly so. Aside from giving us a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, our jobs provide us with a way to pay our bills. They allow us to live a certain way. When that job is threatened, so is our lifestyle.

2. Will I receive enough information?

Research shows that information needs are seven times higher during periods of organizational transition. If information is not available, employees will fill the gaps with rumors.

3. Do I possess transferable, marketable skills if I’m impacted?

After employees resign themselves to the fact that they might be out of a job very soon, they usually begin to take stock of their abilities. Can my skills translate to another industry? Is my role currently marketable in today’s job market?

4. Will I get through it?

Change in the workplace can be an extremely destabilizing situation, turning the known into the unknown. There’s a tremendous sense of loss of control. Left unchecked by management, these concerns can manifest themselves in a few ways. Employees might:
  • Lack commitment to the new organization
  • Increase resistance and passive-aggressive behaviors
  • Decrease their productivity
  • Leave the company for more stable, greener pastures
Successful Management Strategies
Communicate! It’s imperative that employees be kept informed during an uncertain job situation. Employees will resist change under the best of circumstances, even when a new direction makes good business sense.

Even if you know that it’s bad news for employees, let them know immediately. While it’s probably going to be a painful conversation for employees, as well as for you, it’s likely they’ll appreciate your candor and fast response to the situation.

If a merger is what’s prompting changes, make sure you provide information on the other company. While it’s difficult to promise a job, you can commit to potential compensation elements, such as severance, professional career transition services, etc.

The communication process during this period needs to be bi-directional. Think about implementing a hot line that keeps employees up to date on what’s happening during the reorganization. Bear in mind that if it’s a merger situation, both companies need to be consistent, not only in what information they’re providing, but the tone in which that information is communicated. Some other actions that management can take:
  1. Try to avoid an us vs. them environment and language
  2. Leaders should make a concerted effort to be visible
  3. Communicate what isn’t changing
  4. Provide a timeline of key milestones
  5. Do your best to keep morale high
It’s important for management to remember that while the wheels of commerce move at a frenetic pace, behind every deal, every sale, every merger and every restructuring are people. Talk to your employees, support them and remind them that change in the workplace, while at first unsettling, can open a door to a host of new opportunities.