Demoralized Workforce – What can a manager do?
Thousands of public service employees are still waiting to find out their fate; will their jobs be affected by budget cuts, will they find another or better position elsewhere in government, should they start buffing up their LinkedIn profile, or should they take a package and ease into retirement?
But these work force adjustment (WFA) recipients are not the only public servants affected by cuts as managers and coworkers struggle to reorganize, refocus, and move forward to continue service delivery to Canadians. The typical outcome of this approach is that frontline staff are simply left to “do more with less”.
Without leadership guidance, though, they have no real understanding of how to adapt their work processes to accommodate the increased load. Ultimately, these ever-increasing demands can have a devastating impact on the workforce.
If you are a PS employee, you might be noticing that:
- Survivors are keeping a low profile as they try to blend into the woodwork. Although they continue to do their jobs, they tend to avoid risk taking and innovation.
- Stress and anxiety are taking a heavy toll on performance – even to the point of increasing employee illness.
- Less attention is being paid to work than to discussing what is going to happen next.
- Employee loyalty and commitment are evaporating, to be replaced by a climate of suspicion and skepticism in which productivity suffers sharply.
- Some survivors are busier looking for new jobs than they are working on their current ones.
These are serious signs of a ‘demoralized’ work force. Some of the symptoms listed above can also be seen as signs of change fatigue. If your employees are suffering from change fatigue, the first thing you should be asking yourself is:
- Has the change been explained to those who are going to be impacted by it in as much detail as is currently possible?
- Is there an adequate level of trust in your organization’s leadership?
What can a manager do to improve and boost a ‘demoralized’ work force?
I would challenge every manager: if you do find that your employees are demoralized, then as their manager, you are responsible for their engagement.
“They’re miserable because… they have lousy managers and supervisors.”
– Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO at Gallup
Research has time and again proven the powerful connection between employee engagement and employee performance – and how that connection results in organizational success. To good leaders this is not news, it is something that has been intuitive to them for some time.
While the Gallup instrument or the Conference Board “Employee Engagement Barometer” can provide managers with reliable information regarding employees’ attitudes and engagement levels, it might be more useful for leaders to hold up a mirror and take stock of their own attitudes and behaviours so as to better understand their impact on employees. What would your responses to these questions be and what do they reveal about your employees’ engagement?
- My employees are proud to work for (organization name).
- My direct reports enjoy working for me.
- My employees have the materials and equipment that they need to do their job to the best of their ability.
- I value the opinions of my employees.
- I regularly speak with my direct reports and discuss their plans for professional development.
- My employees know where they stand with me at all times – they know exactly where I feel their strengths and weaknesses lie.
- My employees are committed to doing quality work.
- My employees are motivated to contribute more than what is expected of them in their jobs.
- My direct reports are not planning to leave my unit or the company.
- I provide my employees with the opportunities they need to learn and grow.
- My employees feel a sense of accomplishment in their jobs.
- Overall, my employees are satisfied with their jobs.
So what can a manager do to improve and boost a ‘demoralized’ work force? First, make sure employees understand the big picture; changes in staffing should be carried out with as much transparency and involvement as is possible – especially for those staff that will be affected by the changes. You can dramatically mitigate the inevitable hit on employee morale:
- Make sure their input is factored into your decisions. If not, explain why not. Help them develop an understanding of the outcomes you’re projecting and create an early commitment to the plans that will follow.
- Present the total plan and work through it with the front-line teams early and often. Use effective communication to combat rumours – which are typically worse than the reality.
- Build engagement with employees by giving them the full picture and show them how changes to the work processes – that THEY OWN – will be critical to the future success of the organization.
Engagement = Caring
Engagement is not something that just happens – it is the result of involved leaders who carefully create a work climate that supports employees with the right skills, knowledge, and development opportunities. And most importantly, who support them when the going gets tough – and it always does get tough.