The recent turmoil on Wall Street appears to carry more than just financial implication: It may be lowering employee productivity and engagement, as well.
In a new survey by Workplace Options, a work-life consulting and training company, half of respondents said they are experiencing stress because of financial concerns, and nearly the same amount said that stress makes it hard to perform their jobs.
"It's a critical issue because the first reaction is to hunker down, play it safe and try to not stick out," said Jim Haudan, CEO of Root Learning and author of The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap Between People and Possibilities.
"When fear, uncertainty and doubt reign supreme, people begin to get on the [anxiety] train," Haudan explained. "They look at turf control, they begin to catastrophize what's going on, and they begin to worry if [they're] next. All of these emotions are very real, and all of these emotions are exactly what you don't need at a time when you want people to unify, align, change and be agile.
"To help get employees back on track and to leverage workers' capabilities to the fullest, Haudan said talent managers should advise leaders to do the following:
1. Convey the reality of the situation.
Above all, leaders must be frank with employees. "People are amazingly resilient and able to deal with the downside, but the unknown is paralyzing," Haudan said. "The leader's job is to bring the facts into focus and create a perspective.
"To do that, leaders must engage in two specific behaviors: tell the truth and show the bigger picture. "[When leaders tell] the truth, people actually becoming more trusting," Haudan said. "It's when you're not thinking you're being told the truth that you become less trusting.
"There's a very emotional connection, too," he explained. "Telling the truth also conveys that we, leaders, understand the predicament our people are in in such an empathetic way it creates a connection [that allows us] to go forward rather than stay where we're at.
"But leaders also should be sure to convey the bigger picture to employees. Haudan said employees often complain they only receive bits of information that can often give them a haphazard view of what's going on, like disparate jigsaw puzzle pieces.
"They said, 'Why don't [executives] just send the cover of the box across to the puzzle, so we can see how it all fits together and then realize that some of these parts that seem to be in conflict may have their appropriate places?' I think more than ever in these turbulent times, getting people to see the 'box top' of the business and the state of the business is absolutely essential to tap into their capability," Haudan said.
2. Communicate the "score.
"When the financial crisis began to unravel, many employees were glued to their computers, constantly clicking for updates."I've never seen so many [people] check the market so many times in one day," Haudan said. "Human beings, in times of turmoil, want to know what the score is. There's never been greater curiosity about the score; use and leverage that curiosity to not only [get employees to] understand the business but to keep everybody in the game. The urgency can either tear us apart or be a catalyst to bring us together."
Employees are likely to feel overwhelmed in turbulent times, and when upper management unwittingly leads them to believe every initiative is urgent or important, they're more apt to just give up. Leaders should focus on keeping things simple and direct to improve engagement.