Dear Dr. Debra,
I own a company with about 20
employees. Although we, like other companies, have been
hit by the recession and our sales are down, we are
still profitable. In addition, we have cash reserves,
and a good relationship with our vendors due to years of
timely payments to them.
The problem is my employees are
fearful of layoffs, even though I reassure them. I want
to head off potential problems caused by fear and stress
from the economy. Do you think itís better for me to
give a lunch for the group and talk to them, or speak
with each person individually?
Concerned Business Owner
Dear Concerned Owner,
First of all, I want to commend you
on excellent management practices in two areas. 1.
Running your company in a successful manner that will
allow your business to ride out the recession. 2.
Concern for the emotional needs of your employees.
Itís difficult in this climate of
national economic insecurity to not give into the fears
of financial disaster. Economic problems are very real
right now. (Iíve certainly counseled far too many
employees at companies going through layoffs.) However,
economic concerns are also hyped by the media. So, when
youíre surrounded by bad news, itís easy to get caught
up in the fears and anxieties of others.
The truth is, while profits may be
down for most companies, they are still secure. And most
Americans (who want to) are working.
Some of peoplesí fears of layoffs
come from the (unfortunately true) horror stories, where
management denied rumors of layoffs instead of giving
warnings about the companyís financial difficulties.
Then the announcement of the layoffs was dropped on
employees with no warning. Perhaps the front door of the
firm was locked, or the employees were told that was
also the last day of work. Plus thereís little or no
These stories lead to a lack of
trust in the words of owners and management. This is
where your personal integrity and history with your
staff comes in. If youíve acted consistent and truthful
with them in the past, they will be more able to trust
I suggest you hold both a group
luncheon and individual meetings with your employees. In
your group lunch, share the facts youíve written me
about the health of your company. Perhaps show some
charts or graphs so the information is visual, not just
Iíd also take the time to touch on
what employees can do to feel a stronger sense of
People whoíve cut down their
expenses, paid down their debt, and increased their
savings feel more secure than those who continue to live
a less frugal lifestyle. These people also tend to feel
less anxious if they are laid off because they know they
can weather the time between jobs.
I suggest you say something such
as, ďIím not telling you how to live your lives.
However, the more you are careful about managing your
finances, the less stress youíll feel. I know in my
life, Iíve cut back on my spending, paid down my debts,
and increased my savings. So if I read something in the
paper about the economy that scares me, I remind myself
that the business and my personal finances can weather
The other thing that makes staff
feel better is if they can cross train. Learning new
skills makes them more valuable to your company and
gives them more expertise to put on their resume if they
ever need to search for a new job. Give your employees
chances to learn other skills, both at work and through
As for your individual meetings,
Iíd hold them after your group meeting. Use the time to
ask each person if he or she is feeling better, although
donít pry into personal lives. At that point, an
employee might choose to open up and tell you some
personal concernsóa spouse thatís out of work, an
elderly parent she now has to take care of due to the
loss of her investments, a friend whoís laid off and has
lost his house. In your conversations, reiterate your
commitment to keeping your staff intact.
If you have an employee assistance
program, remind your staff to utilize that resource.
Most EAPs have online articles on stress reduction,
including economic stress, and provide individual,
relationship, and family counselingóboth with a 24 hour
hotline, and referrals to local counselors. In addition,
some EAPs offer limited financial and legal counseling.
Interactions with the EAP are confidential. The employer
is not informed of a staff memberís use of the EAP.
Hopefully this will reassure your
employees and keep the morale of your company healthy.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed
psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication
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