Home » Management Tips with Babatunde Fajimi » Smart Ways to Motivate Employees in Tough Times

Smart Ways to Motivate Employees in Tough Times

Organizations have to evolve smart ways to motivate their employees in tough times in order to ensure their performances are optimal for their businesses to survive.

Tough times are times of national emergencies, economic recession, austerity or industrial relations crises arising from employees’ perceived management and leadership failures among other.

The National Garment Workers Federation of Bangladesh took to the streets in massive demonstrations in July 2010 to demand a minimum wage rise for their garment and textile sector following rise in the prices of essentials and house rents over the past four years and alleging that their country got the lowest wages among the garment producing nations. Labour Behind the Label online news platform had reported the General Secretary of the NGWF as saying that “industrial police will not be able to solve unrest on the factory premises, rather, good wages will help stop violence”.

The Post Zambia, an online platform reported on September 12, 2014 that SPAR workers in Lusaka protested to demand 100% increment in their salaries and removal of their CEO, Roselt Van-Essen whom they alleged had been involved in nepotism in recruitment into the company. They also accused the company of not paying their housing allowances and medical schemes whilst their managers allocated housing allowances to themselves.

TheCable online platform of October 13, 2014 reported that in Liberia where Ebola has killed 3,290 people out of the 7,797 cases (as at December 9, 2014) in its ongoing fight against the outbreak, the Liberian National Health Workers Association demanded a pay rise and an enhanced risk fees for its workers and threatened industrial action if government failed to accede to their demands. Their government regretted their inability to afford the risk fee originally agreed and appealed to the Association to be reasonable because their proposed industrial action would jeopardize their national gains against the epidemic.

The Dailymail Online reported on October 18, 2014 that over one hundred thousand workers under the aegis of TUC who organized the Britain Needs a Pay Rise rallies in London, Belfast and Glasgow, marched on the streets of London on October 17, 2014 to protest against austerity and demand wage increases. These workers had earlier gone on strikes before their public sector workers including teachers and civil servants alongside their counterparts in the railway, postal services and private sector took to the streets in protest. Times were hard and they were protesting against a below-inflation one per cent pay offer from the government.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) of Nigeria demanded wage increase for workers in the New Year in the wake of the devaluation of the Naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The National President of the Congress, Mr. Bobboi Kaigama as reported by Premium Times online of December 14, 2014 said, “the issue of wage is a dynamic thing. In stabilized economies, wages are directly proportional to the inflation trend of that country. So, it is expected that following the devaluation of the naira and its resultant rise in inflation, salaries of workers automatically be increased too. But in this country, even after devaluation of the currency, there will not be any increase in workers’ salary and that is bad. The moment devaluation is put in place the prices of goods and services surge, there should be a proportional increase in the workers’ pay. If the issue on (sic) devaluation persist, the Congress will have no option but to enter the New Year with a demand for increase in workers’ pay.”

In a related development, Oil and Gas workers under the aegis of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and National Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) threatened to commence an indefinite nationwide strike action on December 15, 2014 as reported by The Punch Newspaper in order to protest Government’s ability to carry out turnaround maintenance of the nation’s four refineries and reduce pump prices of petrol in line with the slump in global prices of crude oil among other issues.

Tough times affect businesses, and particularly employees who have dual roles of citizens and employees whose lives will be impacted personally, socially, economically and professionally. All these in turn will affect their performances that will determine whether their organizations will survive the tough times or not.

Managing during good times is easy. Things go on fairly well and predictable. When tides change, demands on the enterprise and people put a strain that has to be curtailed in order to ensure that the business continues. It is no longer business as usual. The mindset that business owners and people deploy during good times will change when managing in tough times.

In tough times, there are palpable fears of job loss, insecurity, uncertainties and depression in the society that could lead to apathy, and general loss of motivation to work and produce quality results as in good times. As a result, employees are usually wont to rise up against their employers to demand among other things, pay rise. This affects both employees in government employment and private companies. Employees want pay rise because they usually perceive it as synonymous to motivation.

In tough times, employees are disillusioned. They are confused as they try to joggle many legitimate roles as husband/wife, parents, citizens and workers in order to survive the tough times. Prices of goods and services will rise. There are obligations to be met to their spouses. There are bills to be paid for their children’s education. There are taxes to be paid and other statutory bills to be settled. The work environment will become stressors as they adjust to the realities of recession in the economy directly impacting the workplace. At such times, employees’ demands usually centres around pay rise, better conditions of service, improved work environment and robust retirement plans (where applicable) to cushion the effects of inflation, devaluation of currency and general economic recession.

Organizations and business owners have tough decisions to make in order to steer the course of their organizations afloat to survive the times, and one of such decisions is to motivate their employees in order to keep morale and productivity up. Keep the eyes on long term.

As a general rule, you should not seek to motivate and inspire your employees by throwing cash at them during tough times. In the real sense, the money is not readily available. Your organization should explore a mix of employees’ benefits that accentuate partnership, relationship, and the family. You should focus on the employees’ mental, emotional, physical and creative aspects of their lives in order to evolve a robust work-life balance across the organization. Every organization is different. You should find out areas where your employees lack satisfaction, job fulfillment and motivation and begin to address them, making money the last on the list.

First of all, the work employees do and their job contents must be enriched for improved performance. In tough times, employees’ performance must be optimal and sustained. The employees are defined in life by the work they do hence the value derived from the contents of their jobs are important to motivate them. Employees derive a sense of meaning and fulfillment by the work they do. Their work defines them. Consequently, in tough times, you should ensure that the jobs they do really match their competencies and are able to provide them skills variety, autonomy and satisfaction. You should restructure the organization and redesign works to ensure meaningful task performance and competence fitness. You should set new expectations and standards on performance, quality of service delivery, timeliness of job delivery, resumption time to work and closing time. Whatever innovations you are going to introduce to keep performance at optimum should take cognizance of employees’ competencies and motivation needs.

Secondly, you have to re-examine the context of the employees’ environment and improve on it. The work environment could be physical or psychological. This improvement does not imply spending money to pull down existing structure and install new ones. You have to go round to look at how your employees work in their environment and you can be sure you will find things to improve to help them cope well in tough times. It could be something as simple as re-arranging the furniture, cleaning the window blinds, paying more attention to the cleanliness of the office, removing the cobweb that the cleaners fail to pay close attention to, clearing the walkway or stairways, fixing the broken chairs the employees keep managing, improving the lighting and ventilation systems, improving canteen services or car parking system. The list of what you can do to upgrade the employees’ work environment in order to motivate them is endless.

In tough times, employees like to communicate and want to be informed about developments in their organization. This communication keeps them abreast of events as they unfold and reassures them that management considers them as stakeholders. You should not keep your employees in the dark. You should not allow them to figure out things for themselves. Tell them if you are going through economic recession or financial setback, and solicit their ideas by a way of feedback on how you can survive together. You should not let your management pull a surprise on the employees. You should engage the workers, and regularly communicate with them.

Fourthly, leadership matters during tough times. Employees are motivated when they realize that their management is showing strong leadership. If you want your employees to sacrifice for the organization by taking pay cut, you should demonstrate by your example and cut your executives’ bonuses and benefits. You should ensure that overbearing and incompetent managers are not confusing the employees with their counterproductive styles of leadership. You should allow the employees to express themselves, and follow your work improvement methods without micromanaging them. In tough times, you should be leading ahead of the employees as change champions, and be visible enough for employees to see your examples in a non-ambiguous way.

Tough times are the times to appreciate employees more. You should respect and not trample on their fundamental human rights and dignity of labour. You should not make them engage in unlawful practices or cut corners in production, tax remittances to government or in any aspect of your business. If you do, it will backfire and your organization will face the consequences with the law of the land. You should also recognize your employees through non-cash rewards and incentives that make them feel appreciated. These incentives should be done regularly, across the organization and extended to family members of the employees to show that you care for them in spite of the recession.

Employees want assurances on job security. More importantly, they want to be sure that their careers are going upwardly, particularly in recession. The experience most employees face during tough times is that their careers stagnate. If you are able to pull their careers upward through various intervention programmes, you employees will remain loyal and motivated to give in their best to ensure your organization survives the times.

You should promote a culture that instills professionalism, discipline and unalloyed commitment to the organization in the mind of the employees during tough times. The tendency to be apathetic and slack in performance is very high. You should make sure your employees realize that they have to work hard to ensure their organization survives the tough times so that they can have their jobs after the recession.

Money still matters in tough times. This does not necessarily mean that you will have to increase salaries or benefits. Your employees may even have to take pay cut in order for your organization to survive the period. You have to ensure that you engage and communicate the realities to all employees and get their cooperation on your financial strategy to survive the tough times. You should tell them what is realistic and practical. It could be pay cut, frozen pay or percentile increment if you can afford it. Whatever decision you make, involve your employees and get their concurrence. You should not renege on your agreement in order not to breach your mutual trust. You should not deny them of their monthly salaries. Salaries are not alternatives, they should be paid as and when due. Employees need their salaries to survive with their families during tough times, and paying them what is practically and realistically agreed on time is critical to performance and productivity.

Author: Babatunde Fajimi 

This article was originally published in The Union Newspaper on Sunday under Management Tips with Babatunde Fajimi in December 21, 2014

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