In tough times, smart managers step up. They communicate openly and honestly and provide perspective to help employees weather economic storms.
“When people are scared, they look for help in interpreting what’s going on both inside their organization and in the larger world,” says Marie McIntyre, a workplace psychologist in Atlanta. “Mostly they look to the people above them, their supervisors.”
If you retreat into a shell rather than reassure your troops, you risk driving them to the rumor mill for answers. In the absence of information or support from above, they will feed off each other’s anxiety.
Their fear can translate into silly internal debates, says McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics. They may analyze their boss’s facial expression or body language for signs of stress. Or they may hunt for clues that hint at their fate, such as spying on who comes and goes from the CEO’s office.
“If you see changes in how employees communicate with you, step back and listen to their concerns,” McIntyre says. Examples of such changes include workers who uncharacteristically start bragging about their accomplishments or exhibiting defensiveness. She adds that “a surge in sucking up” can indicate that fear is running rampant in the workplace.
Stifle rumors in their tracks. Convene meetings, send regular e-mail updates and keep everyone in the loop (including off-site workers). Don’t lambaste people for relying on rumors; cut them some slack and acknowledge the difficulties that everyone faces.
With the nation’s unemployment rate soaring, it is easy to understand why so many employees are antsy about their jobs. Your job is to shut down the rumor mill. To communicate better and build trust:
Confront the elephant in the room. With everyone on edge about job security, speak up. Give an overview of your employer’s strategy. Don’t keep quiet while awaiting the eventual recovery. “Just because you don’t talk about it doesn’t mean employees are not thinking about it,” McIntyre says.
Sustain dialogues with staffers. Even if you have no new news to share, keep engaging your team. Ask how they’re doing. Listen with care. Admit what you don’t know if they ask about possible layoffs or other impending moves.
Appoint a “rumor czar.” Whether it’s you or a trusted peer, let your employees know that someone is always available to provide the latest information on rumors or concerns.