David Feldman

Keeping Your Team Engaged in a Downturn

Blog Post created by David Feldman Champion on Feb 21, 2016

With the current circumstances we find ourselves facing in the oil industry, holding onto good employees and keeping them motivated is critical to your success as a manager.  For many of us, focus on cost-cutting, and in many cases, layoffs, is the reality we live in.   This environment can and will lead to our employees becoming demoralized and less productive if we don’t address concerns and communicate properly.


So the question then becomes: How do we keep employees engaged in a downturn?


Before we dive into the “How”, let’s briefly discuss the “Why”.  It’s important to remember that there is a relationship between individual commitment and the company’s success.  People want to be on the winning team!  But the relationship runs in both directions.  When it seems the organization isn’t perceived as winning anymore, it’s easy for employees to lose commitment.  And when Layoffs come around, it only makes the situation worse by creating another set of worries for employees: "Why did I survive," and "Will I be next?"  Let’s discuss a couple ways you can address these issues and lead your team through rough times.


Manage Perceptions

It’s human nature for us to make up explanations when we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t know what’s happening.  And when discussed around the water cooler or in the breakroom, those explanations tend to be worse than the reality—more conspiratorial, more hopeless. It is important for managers to communicate with their teams as much information as possible so everyone is informed with facts and not opinion.   When possible, clearly state what happened to put us in this situation, and most important, what is our plan for getting out of it.


Beyond enlightening your team on the current situation and offering a credible plan for addressing it, managers that have had to lay off employees need to explain to the remaining employees individually why they survived and how they are part of the recovery plan going forward.  You don’t want them believing their survival was a matter of luck.  First, that's likely to leave them feeling guilty about keeping their jobs while other co-workers were let go.  Second, they will experience anxiety by the thought that they could be next. 


Use Downturns to Develop Leaders

Even though you find yourself managing a team through hard times, there are positive steps we can take to build commitment and engagement even in a business downturn.


To do that, it is important to remember that your best employees want opportunities to advance, learn new skills, and to take on new challenges.  They are looking to move up and attain bigger and better jobs in the future.  By facilitating this opportunity you will build commitment and retention. 


Downturns and recessions create lots of needs for the department and organization as a whole. It’s simple math.  If you’ve experienced layoffs recently, there are fewer people to handle all of the work. This provides the perfect growth opportunity as you expose your team to additional job functions and take on new challenges.  Just be careful not to overwhelm your team by overloading them with additional menial work or pushing them into the deep end with no support. There’s a fine line between growth opportunity and overload, and it’s important for you as a manager to walk this line gracefully.


By following these two simple strategies, you will not only maintain, but also build morale and commitment during industry downturns.  Be sure to let your employees know that what they are doing in this time of crisis is truly important to the future of the organization. This sense of importance will build commitment to the team and company, and keep them engaged and happy!