Keeping Employees Motivated During a Crisis

May 1, 2009

By Harriet Meyerson

Susan’s Story

Susan works at a large firm that is in turmoil, and she is frightened. Rumors of a buy out have spread like wildfire. Strange people from another company are walking around. Management hasn’t said anything because they’re not sure the sale will go through. Nevertheless, Susan doesn’t know how the takeover will affect her job–or whether she will even have a job when the dust settles. She is a single mom with two children who depend on her income for food and shelter.

Mary’s Story

Mary lives in a town of 15,000 and works for a company that employs most of the townspeople. The company is downsizing–laying off waves. The downsize list comes out on a designated date every sixty days.

Mary’s husband also works for the company. Together they have bought a house and made a nice life for themselves and their four children. Mary knows that the downsize list date is right around the corner, and she is deeply worried that her husband may be on the list. Since the company is the only major employer in the town, he may not be able to find another job there. They would have to sell their house and move to another city leaving behind both family and lifelong friends.

Karen’s Story

Karen works for a corporation that downsized two months ago. Karen feels fortunate to have held onto a job, but with fewer employees in the office, she has to work twenty hours extra each week. The heavy workload is wearing her down. She doesn’t have enough time to take care of her family, and she is tired and irritable all the time.

How to Deal With Your Crisis

When a crisis appears on the horizon, most of the traditional methods a boss can use to motivate employees fly out the window. Bonuses, extra vacation days, contests, awards–almost no incentive can pry loose the grip of an atmosphere of uncertainty.

What the employees lose is their sense of security. They panic for the very good reason that their livelihood is at stake. Their careers are, for a time, out of control. Their stress levels skyrocket, and they have trouble concentrating on their work. If these fears aren’t addressed, they may even jump ship to a more secure job.

So what can a boss or a manager do to keep employees motivated during a crisis? Here are four important courses of action. 

1. Communicate.

What’s going on? Don’t keep employees in the dark. Because employees are frightened by states of uncertainty, they need to know as much as they can about the nature of the crisis. If they are told less than the whole truth, they will likely imagine the crisis to be much more severe than it actually is. Hold meetings. Send letters. Tell them as much as you know. Even if they don’t like the truth, they will trust you more for telling it.

2. Reassure.

Tell your employees what steps are being taken to make their jobs secure or to help them find another position if their job is likely to be eliminated. Hold “Change” workshops to steer them through the transition.

3. Listen.

Bring in an outside facilitator to help employees vent their fears. Many employees who have been through a company crisis have said that this is one of the most helpful tools their company used to keep employee motivation high. The employees often didn’t realize that other employees felt as fearful as they did, and talking about their fears in a group made them not feel so alone.

4. Celebrate.

After you have done steps 1, 2, and 3, and have addressed the seriousness of the crisis with your employees, hold a “Weathering the Storm” party. A few hours of fun in the midst of chaos can relieve tension and convey the feeling that management cares about the morale within the office. Although a party will not alleviate, say, the company’s financial problems, and the results of the company’s restructuring will remain, it will add a dimension of humor to the tense atmosphere, and a feeling that, no matter what happens, the team will survive this because they’re in it together.

So go ahead and plan that party, because laughing at the dark days can strengthen the cohesiveness of the team.

By taking these four steps, you are doing the best you can during a difficult situation for both your employees and your company. You are helping your employees handle the traumatic stress of the crisis, and you are demonstrating in concrete action that you care about the financial security and physical well being of each of them.

But there’s one more thing that is very important, you are building a relationship of trust, and your employees will know that they can depend on you to be there for them down the road. 

About the Author:

Boosting employee morale doesn’t have to break your budget. Visit for free creative ideas for boosting employee morale on a shoestring budget, free Employee Morale Calendar Planner, and free email Employee Morale Starter Kit…All compliments of author, Harriet Meyerson, founder of

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