With housing prices falling and the market in a slump, it’s no surprise eight out of 10 Americans say the economy is a significant cause of stress, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association. Worries about money, job stability and housing values accompany employees to the workplace. And when they are stressed, it inevitably affects the performance of an organization.
“We sometimes refer to it as employee presenteeism,” said Peter Handal, CEO and chairman of Dale Carnegie Training. “It’s not absenteeism because the employees are there. But they’re only present; they’re not really working. They’re at the watercoolers wondering what’s going to happen, how much is their house worth [and] is the bank going to foreclose? A learning organization in a sense [is] learning what people are thinking.”
To weather this economic climate, organizations should be in-tune with employees and teach them to use various techniques to alleviate stress and worry.
“Training is clearly part of the answer,” Handal said. “We teach and coach people to keep busy. It might sound simplistic, but [it] really is true. If you have a lot of problems you’re worried about, the tendency [is] to dwell on them, to saturate yourself with them. The solution is to keep busy, and the busier you are, the more able you are to deal with the problems you have.”
Companies also should engage in open, honest and frequent communication with employees. To ignore the situation could be a mistake.
“It’s an 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room. If you’re not open about it and you ignore it, then that makes everybody suspicious. You need to tell employees what is going on as you see it,” Handal said.
“We just had our sales academy, [and] I addressed the current crisis. We talked about the effect we see on the business, the opportunities we see that are created as a result [of the crisis] and how individuals would be dealing with these kinds of things. They didn’t expect it, [but] to me, it was just a natural thing to do.”
While organizations should address employee concerns, there is no need to exaggerate the situation.
“There’s always a risk that you exaggerate things,” Handal said. “This affects some people more than others so you have to take that into account.”
If organizations deal with this issue head-on, employees are more likely to be engaged rather than gathering around the watercooler worrying about the future.
“People who are engaged in their work are far more productive than people who are not,” Handal said. “Engaging employees in what is going on at the company, what the goals are [and] showing them there is a future will pay dividends, not just now with the immediate problem but over the long term.”
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