Managing a demotivated workforce after the COVID-19 lockdown

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

We can’t pay the full salaries and benefits of our employees during the Enhanced Community Quarantine unlike major corporations. We applied for a government subsidy and we’re still waiting for its release. This has affected 85% of our workforce. The other 15% were paid their usual compensation because the nature of their tasks allow them to work from home. I’m worried about the repercussions of this. It looks like there’s a storm brewing out there that could adversely affect the motivation of our people. How would you propose to handle our demotivated workforce as soon as they report for work? — Very Anxious.

COVID-19, which originated in China, has brought us many great challenges that are difficult to foresee and overcome. Whether the pandemic is caused by man or by nature is not important today. It’s not the right time to blame one another. Therefore, it’s better to think of solutions that are within our capacity carry out. What’s important is for us to remain positive, no matter how often we’ve heard that before.

In a documentary called “Lightning: Nature Strikes Back,” BBC examines the magnificent power of lightning — “one of nature’s great enigmas” that man is trying to understand if only to unlock its mysteries. The same thing could be happening to COVID-19, which according to writer Niklas Goke can show us the “beauty in the pandemic.”

Goke’s argument lines up with Confucius, who said: “Everything has beauty, but not everyone can see it.” This philosophy can be best understood by expressing it in terms we’re familiar with — beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There’s no other option but for us to remain optimistic for the future. And to discover the hidden opportunities out there.

Coming out of a pandemic lockdown is no easy task, especially for ordinary workers. In fact, things could be much worse if not handled properly by management, which has the greater responsibility for reducing, if not totally eliminating the destructive impact of the lockdown. There’s no other way but to get things back to normal — the sooner, the better. In doing this, I’m offering some basic approaches that you can explore:

One, treat all employees with dignity and respect. You can’t afford to ignore this with or without a crisis. However, at times, some managers use the crisis as a license to terminate employees. This is counter-intuitive. Even if management dismisses some employees, there will be a long-lasting negative effect on the survivors’ morale.

Two, hold a town hall meeting to welcome back the workers. Request top management to be present in presenting the future plans of the organization. Encourage workers to ask questions. Give answers that are easy to understand, not plain motherhood reassurances. Plan the meeting ahead of time by informing all workers via text or email, shortly before the end of the lockdown period.

Three, share the facts about the company’s financial status. Hiding it from the workers will do no good. Sure, the lockdown may have brought considerable losses to the organization. But without any figures, the people will not know how it affects them. It’s much better if managers volunteer to reduce their salaries by a certain percentage, if only to emphasize their own “sacrifices.”

Four, summarize the key points of the town hall meeting. Disseminate the information, including the answers to the questions posed by the workers. It’s possible that your top management may not have fully clarified some issues. If management is not ready with the answers, emphasize that it is pursuing the matter. Whatever happens, don’t give any false expectations.

Five, start or restart all employee communication programs. A town hall meeting is not the only approach management can take. There are many equally important strategies as well. This include the suggestion system, quality circles, labor-management consultation, kaizen teams, and many more. However, all of these can’t be done by top management without the active involvement of all workers and their managers working hand-in-hand.

Last, train all people managers to be inspirational speakers. Zig Ziglar was right: “Motivating people is like taking a bath. We need it every day.” This is one argument why we don’t need external motivational speakers to inspire our workers once a year. But before management can do that, it must do the same thing with its own line supervising executives. If they’re not fully motivated, then how can they motivate their own people?

Proactive, two-way communication is the core of building, developing, and maintaining employee satisfaction with the organization that they work for. Now is the best time to see the “beauty of the pandemic.” There’s no better way but to restart everything with a renewed hope that all organizations, with both labor and management actively cooperating with one another, can make a difference.

Now is the time for management to rethink its plan to jumpstart the company’s employee communication program. After the COVID-19 lockdown, here’s no other way but for management to initiate talking with and listening to its employees. It doesn’t mean, however that people managers do it on autopilot. Listening half-heartedly can convey the wrong impression to people.

Also, listening to people doesn’t mean agreeing with them. What’s important is for managers to be actively aware of what’s happening around them and be attuned to the pulse of the workers.

ELBONOMICS: Everyone is beautiful. The challenge is how to see it in every person.


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