When the Going Gets Tough, Here’s What to Do

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Apr 24, 2018

Every business and staff member go through tough times that might lead to distractions, a drop in motivation or a change in priorities. The only certainty is that all businesses must be ready to face uncertainty. Difficult situations will arise that need to be navigated sensitively, and whilst trying to maintain ‘business as usual’ and good results.

Here at, we’ve selected 4 scenarios most companies  will inevitably encounter and asked business leaders, motivational gurus and HR experts for advice on overcoming them.

1. Your company suffers a bad financial period

Regardless of the confidence in your company’s business model and the proficiency of your workforce, tougher trading periods are a reality that all businesses must deal with.

Uncertainty can quickly grow among your team, but it’s how you react that will define if it’s a special circumstance or a long-term trend. Ben Gold, president of QuickBridge, outlined the need for transparency.

“It’s important that you don’t try to cover up or hide the fact that your company is going through a financial rough patch. Make important company information and reporting available so they’re able to see the contrast in volume numbers between each month.

“Reports and metrics may point to better financial times on the horizon, which could lead to higher levels of productivity and a greater sense of motivation.”

The need to provide clarity to staff members was echoed by Sacha Brant, founder and CEO of Sassy Lasses.

“Choose transparency. Be very upfront with every one of them and pull together a large staff meeting to discuss actionables to make it work. Using all-in team tactics, you’re able to get the team invested in the success and not just the paycheck.

“Be open and honest with them, regardless of their position.”

During tough times, it’s important to communicate in an open and transparent way, allowing the team to voice any questions or concerns. Share your solutions with staff; in the absence of information, staff will fill in their own gaps, and what they’re imagining could be worse than the reality.

2. A team member is underperforming

Rather than a company-wide struggle, an individual failing to meet goals can be an isolating and demotivating scenario for employees.

Marlene Caroselli, author of Jesus, Jonas, and & Janus: The Leadership Triumvirate, suggests the following technique as your first step to managing the situation:

“The Five-Why technique is probably best for learning why the targets are not being met. It will reveal, for example, if this is a temporary or permanent condition, if more training is required, if apathy is at the base or if there are personnel problems.

“Until the cause is identified, a viable solution really cannot be effected.”

Marlene notes the Five-Why technique in identifying the root cause of the employee’s poor performance. Essentially, you drill down into a problem by asking “why” five times, helping you to be more informed when solving the issue.

Doug Keller, an HR expert from Employee Benefit Services, focuses more on kick-starting job satisfaction to refocus struggling staff — namely task identity and task significance.

“Task identity is the process of completing a project from start to end,” he explained.

“Sometimes people only see themselves as a cog in a wheel and are disconnected from the implications of their role. Allowing them to work at different points throughout the life of an assignment helps them to not only own their contribution but the project as a whole.

“Task significance is best described as understanding the effect your work has on others, either within or outside the organization. For example, if you’re a home developer your job is not solely building houses but rather creating the means for a family to build years of memories together inside of the house you construct. This can be lost as employees complete simple, mundane tasks.”

If this scenario arises, don’t put off having the conversation. Hoping the situation will improve on its own is detrimental to the individual, the rest of the team, and your business. Be sure to ask how they’re finding things; they probably already know there are issues, which will make for a much easier segue into the conversation.

Help ease them back into performance with positive reinforcement and offer support and regular check-ins to keep things on track.

3. Resources are suddenly stretched

Sometimes, a sudden increase in workload can catch you off guard. Employees move on, illness leaves your team depleted in the short term or new business comes your way.

Using Doug Keller’s technique of “Job crafting” you can reinforce the value of your current employees to the business and provide new opportunities for them to flourish.

“Job crafting,” he explains, “is a method of customizing work that allows employees to take on tasks that they feel play to their strengths or interests while creating value for the company.

“This can be done without having new duties; but in the event of departures, start by having a meeting about changing roles. As new duties are listed, allow those with the experience or interest in the areas to take them on and make them their own.”

You can help employees look at staff changes as potential opportunities for them to grow and develop their skill set, rather than just a build-up of further stress.

It can be tempting to abandon any processes that don’t directly affect the bottom line, but Rod Brown, chief operating officer of OnceLogix, says this is exactly when you need to be doing the opposite:

“When times are tough it’s tempting for business owners and managers to put engagement initiatives to one side and focus on organizational pressures. However, this is precisely the time to actively engage with your employees.

“Be sure to over-communicate, keeping lines of communication open both ways. Be visible, implementing an open-door policy. And ask for employee feedback and include employees in your action plan.”

Once you’ve outlined actions going forward, communicate it regularly with staff. Be sure to include how long you expect the current situation to last. Short-term pressure is manageable, but people need to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Be sure to check in more regularly than usual, ensuring people support if they request it. Show your appreciation when workers go the extra mile – a thank you goes a long way in these situations – and reward the team when you’ve come out the other side.

4. Personal circumstances are affecting a worker’s state of mind

People go through testing circumstances at home that can lead to distractions in the office.

“The first thing to do is address the situation and determine if the employee should even be working during this time.” says Nate Masterson, marketing manager at Maple Holistics. “If it’s decided that they will continue working, one of the best things to do is to mix things up at work. This enables the employee to get out of the humdrum of their normal routine and benefit from a productive distraction.”

Being available and approachable could lead to a worker being back at their most productive faster. “It’s important to remind your employee that they don’t have to be alone during their troubled times and that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Make it clear you’re here to help. Even if you don’t have the solutions, being available to listen can be powerful enough. Be proactive in checking back in, their silence on the issue might not mean it has been resolved.

Let them drive the solution. Work may be a hindrance, but it could also be a help. Structure and routine can be really important when dealing with well-being. Ultimately, speak with them to bring about the best solution, rather than trying to fix it yourself.

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