There’s a school of thought that contends when workers feel they have job security, they can become complacent and less productive. On the other hand, with an ax hanging over their heads, workers start to stress, act cautiously, make mistakes, or become resentful of superiors or motivated to leave your employ. In some cases, job insecurity comes from signals sent by an employer. In other cases, a struggling economy or industry can cause workers to fear for their futures.
Workers who feel they might not be with you much longer not only don’t put as much effort into their work, they also stop reporting problems they see or might even sabotage you. Nervous employees who try to increase their productivity by working more hours can start to suffer health problems, with the quality of their work decreasing with the quantity they produce.
How can you balance letting your workers know their jobs are safe while making it clear you won’t accept the Peter Principle and that each staff member needs to continue to excel to get raises, promotions and bonuses — and even keep a job? Following these five tips can help you keep your staff motivated without making them feel threatened.
#1 Provide a Detailed, Written Job Description
While your HR department has a significant (and usually the final) say in job descriptions, you can work with them to let them know what you’d like to see in a job description. This can also help them as they recruit the specific talent you need and protect you from legal complaints later. When you first meet with new hires, let them know your specific goals for your department, how you expect each one of them to contribute to that goal, how their job descriptions specifically relate to these objectives, and how they will be evaluated at the end of the year. Written job descriptions allow employees to periodically review what’s expected of them so they can be sure they are meeting their obligations (and reduce paranoia).
#2 Ask for Input
The person with the most expertise regarding what Bob should be doing during the year is often Bob. As people grow in their careers, they become experts and learn what their positions can contribute to a company or agency. They often redefine their positions based on what they learn and the skills they develop. If it’s a new position, you might not completely understand what the job will require until the employee has 90 days or so to settle in. Ask your employees how they believe their jobs fit into the overall direction of your department or agency, if they have the resources, tools and support they need, and how they see themselves operating a year from now. This lets them know they are ultimately responsible for their success, career advancement and job security.
#3 Give Ongoing Feedback
Don’t wait until an annual review to drop a bombshell on an employee that she didn’t perform to your expectations. She might rightfully ask, “Why didn’t you tell me that six months ago?” You might also find the two of you have been operating with different expectations based on the written job description she has. Hold quarterly meetings with employees to discuss their performance using two-way feedback to make sure you’re both on the same page. A lack of communication about job performance can lead an employee to feel he’s not valued. Make sure your managers give regular written and verbal praise if it’s warranted, and specific instruction for improvement if a worker is struggling. Telling a worker she’s not doing a good job is likely to decrease her morale. Giving her specific instructions for improving sagging performance shows you’re interested in keeping her on board.
#4 Plan and Communication Succession
No one wants a dead-end job with no chance for growth, advancement or expansion. If you don’t have a succession plan for your department or agency, create one, examining how each position fits into that plan. Look at each employee you have and ask yourself where you see her one, three and five years down the road. Create scenarios for replacing people who leave, looking at whether you can fill each position with an internal candidate. If so, consider the training your staff will need to advance in your department. Let each employee know what his potential is and what skills he’ll need to develop to advance.
#5 Nip it in the Bud!
Address any rumors about cutbacks, budget reductions or other talk of problems that can lead to paranoia about job security. While you might think letting these rumors hang in the air might motivate your staff to work harder, it can backfire on you by destroying morale and increasing staff turnover. Job insecurity can be so stressful that when an employee finally gets confirmation she’s getting the ax, it can be a huge relief after weeks or months of emotional trauma. A telltale sign of worker insecurity is a decrease in employees using the wellness and other support benefits you offer. Keep in touch with your HR department to spot any change in employee benefits use that might signal your staff members don’t want to call attention to themselves.
Do you have any advice for managers regarding how to create a more stable office? Are you a manager who can share your experience with balancing the carrot and stick?