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7 Min Read

8 Tips for Leading Through Difficult Times

HR tech writer Amanda Cross
Amanda Cross

These last few years can be summed up with the word “unprecedented.” As much as we’ve used that word lately, it still rings true in 2022. Recently, we’ve seen drastic changes in companies. Layoffs have been happening all across the United States (and internationally), and leaders are still being forced to grapple with keeping employees engaged and performing in tough times.

Leading through difficult times like layoffs can be a true test of your abilities as a manager or executive. Employees need leaders who can step up and act during challenging times. But exactly how can leaders and managers support employees during times like these? Keep reading for eight strategies to help you excel at leading and motivating teams in tough times.

1. Frequent communication is key

Do you shut down or rise to the occasion when something terrible happens? Employees desire a high level of communication when things can change at a moment’s notice. Your team members will also appreciate regular contact, so they don’t begin catastrophizing. If you are dealing with a difficult time at work, find ways to improve communication:

  • Add an HR update to each team meeting.
  • Send out quick email newsletters to update employees.
  • Use asynchronous communication tools like Loom to share short updates.
  • Ensure managers stick to a weekly 1:1 schedule.
  • Provide an anonymous feedback method to get more ideas from employees.

2. Be transparent about your vision and values

It’s easy to let go of your vision or company values during difficult times. There’s so much happening at work that employees aren’t sure what makes sense anymore. When there’s division and change, it’s time to reaffirm your vision and ensure everyone’s on the same page about company values. This can feel overwhelming, but everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction during times of crisis.

Work with your executive team to determine what, if anything, needs to change in light of current circumstances. Once you decide on your current priorities and vision, share those with the team. Hopefully, your team’s values stay the same, so you can double down on how those values will get your company through this challenging experience.

3. Show compassion during interactions with employees

If you’re wondering how to support colleagues in stressful situations, one way is to show compassion. Team leaders aren’t the only people going through this turbulent time. Leaders have a lot on their plates, but this experience may be just as problematic for employees. Your workers have their own struggles, families to take care of, and fears about potential work changes. No one wants to be subject to a layoff or other employment change.

Even though you may be dealing with your own issues, you must be compassionate and show employees that you care about their wellbeing. Part of being a leader is being able to show grace under pressure.

4. Find ways to work smarter, not harder

While tightening the belt can make your team more creative, it can also be stressful for employees who are used to more resources. When companies are doing more with less, it’s important to work smarter, not harder.

  • Encourage employees to avoid multitasking and focus on one task at a time.
  • Plan so that meetings are during certain days and have company-wide no meeting days.
  • Automate tasks that don’t need a human to oversee them.
  • Outsource items that can be operationalized and given to a freelancer or independent expert.
  • Allow employees to block their schedule so they can batch similar work tasks.
  • Coach your employees to troubleshoot issues on their own.

One of the most valuable lessons for employees who want to work smarter is to plan time on your schedule for focused work in advance. Taking fifteen minutes in the morning to set priorities and block off time on your calendar can make a world of difference.

5. Adjust your expectations

At the same time, you can’t expect employees to work at the same level with fewer people or resources. If you have to let go of employees or external resources, adjust your expectations for current team members, and focus on maintaining the motivation and engagement of those employees.

Dealing with layoffs can be challenging for employees who survive the cuts. There can be intense feelings of survivor’s guilt, and it may take your current team a while to adjust to everything. You must let employees grieve their ex-coworkers. Alternatively, it may take time for your team to adapt to bringing activities in-house if they were used to the extra support.

Once everyone understands the current team roster, you must rethink what you can reasonably expect from everyone. Some initiatives you were once excited about may need to go on the back burner for a while. By thinking about what’s reasonable instead of forcing employees to do two or three jobs, you can improve retention at work, strengthen existing teams, and emerge even stronger than before

6. Don’t forget to take ownership of the situation

Accountability is an essential leadership skill. It’s easy to point the finger and discuss what went wrong. Great leaders builds trust and share the responsibility.

Here is a step-by-step process you can use to take ownership at your company:

  1. Acknowledge where you slipped up and how those decisions got you where you are.
  2. Encourage other team members to reflect on how their behaviors may have contributed.
  3. Work as a company to create an action plan to reverse course.
  4. Implement the action plan and see how the changes affect company-wide metrics.
  5. After a specific time has passed, reassess your metrics and decide the next steps for your action plan.

7. Show your gratitude every day

Gratitude is one of the most critical aspects of managing staff in hard times. How often do you say thank you or praise employees for a job well done? A simple thank you message to employees during difficult times can go a long way to making employees feel supported and wanted at work, which can in turn boost employee engagement.

Gratitude should be given in real-time, not just during the annual performance review. To increase engagement, you must find a way to give feedback early and often.

8. Realize that difficult times don’t last forever

Managing and keeping employees engaged in tough times can feel challenging because it’s not always easy to see a way out. You may feel stuck and unable to make proper decisions as a leader. It’s important to realize that there is always a light at the end of the funnel.

For example, one situation bringing companies down are market corrections. A study from Northwestern Mutual found that 45% of modern market corrections lasted less than eight months. While these challenges can look tough while you are inside of them, once you zoom out, you can typically see that these challenges are relatively small.

Excelling at leadership during difficult times

If you want to lead a team during a turbulent time, you need to lean into soft people skills. How you treat your people during this time will speak volumes as your company eases out of a tough situation. Skills like communication, transparency, compassion, and gratitude will significantly impact your company’s journey.

Want to learn more about how tools like 15Five can set your organization up to not only survive times of uncertainty and upheaval, but build a foundation for continued growth and thriving?

Schedule a demo, or try 15Five for free!