Is there a grapevine in your company, or water cooler talk? What’s the general topic of lunchtime conversation in the lunchroom? It may be discussions of the government shutdown. All it takes to find out how people feel about it is spending a little time on social media reading comments, tweets, and blogs. The rhetoric around the government shutdown ranges from concern to alarm to worry to outright anger and fear. You probably have employees who are directly affected by the shutdown in negative ways.
When difficulties in the wider community are a source of upset and worry for your employees, it’s an opportunity to extend yourself as an employer, bond, and build employee engagement. First, you must be aware of how your employees are affected, and then you can open communication, provide information, and direct people to resources that can help.
How the Government Shutdown Affects Us All
People may have the general impression that the government shutdown affects certain groups of people such as government employees like military personnel and other federal workers, but in reality, the shutdown affects almost every citizen in some way.
- Government benefits may be delayed, such as HUD-sponsored programs for needy families like the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and rental assistance programs.
- Education payments processing may be delayed, such as Pell Grant applications and disbursements and Federal Direct loans.
- Travel arrangements may be disrupted because of passport offices located in closed government buildings.
- Those who need help with income tax questions will have to wait since the IRS workforce is reduced almost 90 percent.
- Small Business Administration and FHA loans are delayed, affecting entrepreneur and businesses and potential homeowners across the country.
Your employees may be experiencing problems from these or other types of situations because of the shutdown, or may have friends, relatives, or neighbors more directly affected with spouses who are federal employees.
How to Start Helping
The best way to start is with communication. Don’t remain silent or disapproving when employees express frustration or concern about the shutdown. AONHewitt’s “2012 Trends in Global Employee Engagement” reports that communication is one of the top opportunities for employee engagement, and that communication usually breaks down at the mid-management or immediate manager level. So it’s important to involve these managers in engagement activities that center around communication.
- Provide employees with information about the government shutdown, local government entities that are closed, and resources to help them deal with delays and closings. Make sure employees can go to their direct managers to get information.
- Arrange information sessions to provide information and allow employees a venue to ask questions.
- Invite representatives from community resources to come to talk to your employees about the government shutdown and alternatives to services and resources that may be unavailable from government sources.
Be Transparent if the Shutdown Affects Your Business
You may not want to alarm your workforce by telling them when the government shutdown affects your business by delaying an SBA loan or taking government contracts off the table. But your employees are feeling the effects of the shutdown in their own lives, and will respect and support your company and your business more if you are honest with them.
They may also have some good ideas for alternatives to things that are affecting your business. Let them know what you’re dealing with and try some creative problem-solving such as brainstorming sessions or town hall meetings to solicit ideas, share information, and open communications. Use it as an opportunity to bring everyone together to work on a mutual concern.
Let Employees Share Their Stories
No one wants to be silenced or disciplined for expressing vulnerability during difficulties. Instead of discouraging talk about the shutdown, allow employees to share their stories about why they are frustrated or concerned about the shutdown, or how they or their loved ones are directly affected by it.
Take a cue from the NBCNews playbook and give employees a way to vent. Whether it’s as simple as dedicating a wall for post cards for employees to write down and post their feelings, two-minute employee video sessions about the shutdown that you post on the company intranet or YouTube channel, or weekly Q&A sessions for open discussions, letting employees know they won’t be penalized for their concerns will forge an appreciation and a bond that they won’t forget.
When you extend a hand instead of taking a step back during difficulties, you create loyalty, good will, and good feelings that build engagement and benefit your employees and your business.
For more best practice learning about how to engage and recognize employees, please download our free Employee Gift Giving Guide today.
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