In a two-part series on The Tougher Workplace, Los Angeles Times reporter Alana Semuels takes a look at how the recession has negatively impacted working conditions for both hourly and salaried employees.
One of the main themes of her story is that businesses are asking employees to work harder without providing the kinds of rewards—financial and psychological—that were once routine. As Semuels explains, “Employers figure that if some people quit, there are plenty of others looking for jobs.”
Paul Osterman, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research, who was quoted in the story, agrees. He says, “Wages are stagnant, jobs are less secure, work is more intense — it’s a much tougher world.”
For example, Semuels quotes Matt Taibi of Providence, Rhode Island, who routinely works twelve-hour days as a driver for UPS. “There’s more and more push toward doing more with less workers,” says Taibi. “There are more stops, more packages, more pickups. What’s happening is that we’re stretched to our limits and beyond.”
All workers are being impacted
Semuels reports that salaried workers are also experiencing the harsher work environment. While an over-forty-hour work week has routinely been a part of salaried positions, workers often enjoyed a measure of autonomy in their schedules.
That’s increasingly rare, says David Tayar, who spent a decade on salary as an associate attorney at a Manhattan law firm. He says that the demands of his job grew so much in that time, he eventually felt that he could never take a break.
When he started, Tayar says, “I checked my voice mail every few hours. Today, lawyers must check their BlackBerrys every few minutes — and be prepared to cancel a dinner, a weekend trip, or a vacation at a moment’s notice.” Tayar says he took just one day of vacation in a five-year stretch.
“You could never totally relax — you could be called at any time, unless you were officially on vacation,” Tayar says. “And even if you were, there were times when you would be called in to work.”
In defense of the common tactic of reducing headcount, cutting costs, and driving higher levels of productivity, Tim Meyer, an executive with private equity firm Gores Group of Los Angeles, explains, “Sometimes you have to make dramatic changes to save the jobs that you can.”
But it’s come at a cost, says HR Specialist Donna Prewoznik . “The relationship between employers and employees has changed,” she says. “Employees haven’t had raises. They’re tired. Their hours are reduced. They feel a little bit betrayed.”
What’s your experience doing more with less in today’s work environment? Share your comments below—or check out the hundreds that have been posted online in response to Semuels’ article. You can read more by checking out The Tougher Workplace series here.
Trust, commitment, and morale all took a hit as many companies struggled through the economic downturn of the past two years. Ken Blanchard believes that there are three key strategies that leaders can employ to return a wounded organization to full health:
- Be a bearer of hope
- Make your people your business partners
- Become a servant leader
In this short video Ken describes how re-establishing trust, creating a compelling picture of the future, and getting everyone aligned and moving in the same direction is the quickest path to accelerated growth. To see Ken’s full presentation on this subject, check out Healing the Wounded Organization.
Years ago, business owners were asked, “If you had to choose between a fire that wiped out your facilities versus having all of your people quit and walk out at the same time, which option would you take?” Almost everyone said they’d rather lose their buildings and equipment because to rebuild their human organization would require a lot more effort and be more difficult to accomplish.
In the latest issue of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Ignite newsletter, co-founder Ken Blanchard shares how the recession of the past two years put many organizations into a position of having to decide between people and profits in order to stay in business. Some of those decisions were painful, and in some cases, the way decisions were made had an adverse impact on the human side of the organization. The facilities and the equipment are intact, but the people are not present in the same way as before.
As a result says Blanchard, “People are looking for clues to see if their organization is only interested in the bottom line, or if they are equally concerned with the people side of the business.”
For leaders looking to rebuild trust, commitment, and morale in their organizations, Blanchard recommends senior leaders focus on creating a compelling vision, while immediate managers work to implement plans by connecting individual work to overall goals.
As Blanchard explains, “Senior leaders need to create a compelling vision that defines or redefines the organization’s business. The key here is to have a clear focus on the customer and make that everyone’s goal. During the past recession, people saw what looked like self-serving behavior on the part of a lot of leaders. In many organizations, it seemed as if top leaders saw the organization only as a way to achieve personal ends. In contrast, when senior leaders identify a compelling vision of the future and align the organization’s goals and values toward this vision, everyone can move in the right direction and focus their energy on the customer.
“Frontline managers need to make sure that each and every employee’s work is connected to an overall department or organizational goal and that the employee can see how their work has an impact. To build trust and respect with direct reports, frontline managers should schedule regular one-on-one meetings with their people. Managers should use these sessions to clarify expectations, solicit input, answer questions, and provide feedback. Nothing shows that you care and respect a person—and their work—more than spending time with them, checking on their progress, and providing help when necessary.”
To read more about Ken Blanchard’s thoughts on rebuilding trust, commitment, and morale, be sure to check out the complete article here. To participate in a complimentary webinar Ken Blanchard will be conducting on this topic visit the information page for Healing the Wounded Organization. The webinar is free and hosted by Cisco WebEx. Click here for details.
Organizations like Southwest Airlines, Chick-fil-A, WD-40, and Wegman’s have all enjoyed long term success in part because of an unwavering commitment to their employees in both good times and bad.
What traits do the leaders at these organizations have in common? Three things—they are bearers of hope; they treat their people as their business partners; and they see their role as serving others.
- Bearers of hope. Especially in tough times, leaders at great companies keep on sending out positive messages. That doesn’t mean that they turn their back on the truth or the present reality. But they are optimistic.
- Treat people as business partners. If you want people to be on your side you have to respect them. That means sharing information with them and involving them in decisions. Leaders need their people to trust in them and believe that the organization “means them no harm.” If employees don’t trust leaders, they spend their time looking up the organizational hierarchy instead of focusing on the customer.
- See your role as a servant leader. Leaders in great companies see their role as supporting the people closest to the customer. Once strategy is set, these leaders turn the organizational pyramid upside-down so everyone focuses on serving the people that are serving the customer.
Look to your leaders to create a more tenacious and resilient organization. Are they modeling these behaviors?
Companies that deal best with tough times don’t forget that the key to their success is maintaining a productive and motivating environment for their people. While other companies may be tempted to temporarily shift their focus to look exclusively at the bottom line, great companies don’t forget that without their people taking care of their customers they wouldn’t be in business.
What’s the best way for leaders to impact their organizations after a layoff, merger, or acquisition? If you had to choose between focusing on your people, financials, or customers, where would you begin? We asked that question to 700 frontline, mid-level, and senior executives who attended our webinar on Revitalizing the Downsized Organization this past Tuesday.
Their response? Focus on your people first.
52% said addressing employee motivation needs should be the first order of business, followed by customer needs (14%), and then financials (12%).
How does this stack up with your priorities during these trying economic times? It’s important to have a strong strategic focus on financials when money is tight, but make sure that you are also paying attention to employee needs. After all, you need their best ideas and their best work now, more than ever.
Great organizations know that focusing on people—both customers and employees—is just as important as measuring the success of the bottom line.
Are you taking care of the people who take care of your customers?
The debate between what’s better for company’s experiencing a downturn in sales, layoffs or pay cuts, continues to draw differing opinions. In today’s US edition of The Wall Street Journal, columnist Cari Tuna reports that while 65% of companies resort to lay offs when faced with economic short falls, a growing percentage are choosing mandatory furloughs and pay cuts as an alternative.
What are the deciding factors in determining which path to follow? It all depends on how you see the future unfolding.
If you “don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, it just makes sense to lay off less productive workers,” says Satish Deshpande, a management professor at Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business.
Other workplace experts believe that pay cuts and mandatory furloughs are the better choice if you believe a sales decline will be temporary.
Which route would you choose? It probably depends on your outlook for the future.
If you’ve already had to make some changes in compensation or structure because of the economy, be sure to check out our free webinar tomorrow on Revitalizing the Downsized Organization. Senior Consulting Partner Chris Edmonds will be sharing some hands-on management strategies for keeping everyone focused, productive, and optimistic as we ride out this downturn.
For more on this debate, check out our earlier post on January 30, Layoffs or Pay Cuts: How would you decide?
Join Blanchard consultants Jim Atwood and Alan Youngblood at The Ken Blanchard Companies LeaderChat blog beginning at 10:05 a.m. Pacific Time for a 50-minute Q&A session.
Jim and Alan will be stopping by right after they finish their WebEx webinar on Keeping People Focused and Productive during Uncertain Times. Over 400 people will be participating in the webinar and many will be gathering at the Blanchard blog to ask follow-up questions.
If you have a question that you would like to ask Jim or Alan, just enter this thread or click on the COMMENTS hyperlink near the title of this post. Type in your question in the space provided and hit SUBMIT COMMENT. Jim and Alan will answer as many questions as possible until they have to leave at 11:00 a.m. Pacific.
And if you can’t stay, be sure to stop by later and see all the questions that were asked. Or better yet, hit the RSS FEED button on the right-hand column and receive updates on a daily basis.
We just published the results of our annual corporate issues survey. This year’s survey shows that executives and company leaders are somewhat optimistic that the US economy will rebound in 2009. Following the 2008 slowdown that has crippled economies around the world, over 70% of those surveyed expected the economy to begin its recovery sometime this year. Only a quarter of the respondents thought the downturn would continue unabated into 2010.
The 2009 results represent feedback from more than 1,700 executives, line managers, and training and human resource leaders from a range of companies, industries, and countries. Since 2003, over 6,700 leaders have participated in this ongoing study. Here are some of the highlights from the press release:
“Participants in the most recent Blanchard survey were asked to describe their organization’s overall outlook in regards to the economy, training expenditures, expected cuts, and coping strategies. In addition, the survey touched on corporate issues relating to organizational, HR, and management challenges. Responses focused on the most important aspects of future corporate growth and employee development, as well as how employees are prepared to deal with these and other hurdles. Some of the survey’s top responses include:
Tactics for Coping in a Down Economy
- Invest in productivity and performance
- Cut travel costs
- Increase focus on branding and differentiation
2009 Top Organizational Challenges
- Economic challenges
- Competitive pressure
- Growth and expansion
2009 Top Management Challenges
- Managing change
- Creating an engaged workforce
- Reducing costs
Types of Training to be Offered in 2009
- Leadership skills
- Managerial/supervisory skills
- Customer service skills
With the expectation that the economy will begin to recover within the next year, survey respondents also predict that their corporations will not make drastic cuts to training budgets. Fewer than 1 in 5 state that their organization plans to spend significantly less money on training in 2009, as compared to 2008. This desire to maintain an adequate level of training points to the identification of corporate development as a way to ride out the storm of economic turmoil, while also refining and realigning each organization’s own learning infrastructure.
While recent news has highlighted the downsizing of well-known companies, the Blanchard survey results show signs that corporations are looking inward to survive current conditions instead of resorting to the old playbook of cuts, cuts, and more cuts. Companies seeking to decrease costs along all facets of the organizational structure are not, the survey suggests, primarily targeting personnel and marketing. Only 29% of respondents listed personnel layoffs and cuts as ways their companies plan to cope with the down economy, while marketing cuts came in at 14%. More than 60% plan to invest in productivity and performance-maximizing strategies, while another 46% plan to focus on their corporate branding and differentiation.”
You can view the entire Blanchard 2009 Corporate Issues Survey findings at:
We had a great turnout for Ken Blanchard’s webinar on Leading in Uncertain Times yesterday. Over 1,600 people joined us online for the live event and over 700 people joined us here at LeaderChat afterwards to ask additional questions.
Ken identified a couple of key points about leading during times of change that I wanted to call out. See what you think and consider how each of these recommendations is being played out in your organization.
- Make your people your business partners. During challenging economic times it might seem like you need to be careful about what you say and what information you share. This is misguided according to Ken. Instead of communicating less, leaders need to be communicating more. Share what you know so everyone in the organization is seeing what you are seeing.
- Be a bearer of hope. What’s your intended role as a leader in your organization? Realist? Pragmatist? Strategist? Ken’s recommendation? Leaders need to be bearers of hope. Once you’ve shared the situation with people, share your positive plans for moving forward.
- Be a servant leader. Having a good, solid plan is only half of the story. The real work begins when you turn the organizational pyramid upside down. Now your job as a leader is to support your people, providing the tools, resources, and authority that allows them to take action.
At a time when everything seems topsy-turvy, it was comforting to enjoy the touchpoint of the Super Bowl. I listened to the game on radio while catching up with some work and it was reassuring to hear the ads for Lincoln-Mercury (focusing on batteries, tires, and brakes), Subway (eat healthy), MotorCraft batteries, and Barbasol shaving cream—just like always. It reminded me that even as we cope with a serious recession, there is still a lot of business out there and things are more the same than they are different. Sure, we’re all saving every nickel and dime, but we are still buying the things we need. People and businesses are being cautious with their money. I can handle that.
It was also comforting to see that some people—marketers especially—are still working hard. It was fun to see them adjusting their messages to fit the current economic situation. No panic—just a necessary adjustment. It’s probably something we can all reflect on. What’s the approach in your organization? Are you adjusting, moving forward, dealing effectively with the situation, or are you holding back, unsure of how to proceed. That’s a sure recipe for failure.