Communicating When Times are Tough

Communicating When Times are Tough


With energy and labour costs on the rise, competition increasing from all over the globe, customers becoming more and more demanding, and price wars rife throughout many industries, more and more employers are facing challenging times.

Compared to this, being the bearer of good news is a more pleasant experience. The biggest mistake that these companies are making is trying to turn things around with only the efforts of the owner or the senior management team.

A big boat can be turned faster and more easily if all the passengers are doing their bit to paddle in the right direction, instead of relying on the efforts of only a select few.

Companies often delay having these discussions with employees for fear they will panic and prematurely jump ship. Managers shy away from having these difficult conversations with their employees because of the discomfort they will feel when facing questions to which they don’t presently have the answers to.

It’s important however to note, however, that these discussions are a sign of significant trust in your employees and that, in the end, they have a right to know.

Here are some communication guidelines to help you face up to the challenge:

  • Make sure that the person communicating with employees is someone they trust.
  • Thoroughly prepare for the discussion – brainstorm potential questions that employees may have and be prepared to answer them. Also prepare on how you’re going to respond to questions that you didn’t prepare for. If you promise staff that you’ll revert back to them at a later stage on certain questions they have, make sure that you honour that commitment and that you do so promptly.
  • Your communication must be factual, honest and sincere – avoid losing control of your emotions. If you need to apologise, do so. Be prepared to be criticised, challenged and questioned all throughout this recovery period. Encourage this behaviour and be grateful for these employees who still care so passionately about your business.
  • Be clear – if you expect staff to cease all luxury expenditure, you’ll have to be very clear on what you consider to be luxury items (for example not everyone will view training, catering for on-site meetings or venue fees for off-site meetings as luxuries).
  • Do not make promises that you cannot keep.
  • Make sure that employees are clear on your commitment to stick it out and that you reassure them that you’ll do your best to find a way to turn things around. Any changes in the management team or public disagreement between members of the management team during this time will create more uncertainty and should be avoided.
  • Remind team members that it is natural for tensions to rise during challenging times, but that you expect them to look out for each other, pull together and support each other.
  • Squash rumours with honesty. Where you do not provide the true story, people will make up their own. Make it very clear that spreading rumours will not be tolerated and make sure that you back this up with your actions.
  • Set the example. Be fair and consistent. Do not allow one department to spend on luxuries whilst holding another department accountable for savings. Do not approve any unnecessary expenditure.
  • Set targets, keep track of the progress against these targets, regularly update employees on the progress and recognise employees for working together to achieve the common goal. Once things take a turn for the better and have stabilized, reward employees appropriately.
Su-Mari Du Bruyn
Su-Mari Du Bruyn is co-founder of Adapt To Change. She is a qualified HR practitioner and logistics specialist and is passionate about Continuous Improvement and people development. Through Adapt To Change she assists businesses to improve their business performance and better engage their staff. Su-Mari also recently launched her e-book business guide, The Power to Ignite. Available exclusively on for Kindle, The Power to Ignite is a practical guide to the powerful art of Continuous Improvement, sharing proven methodology and highlighting important dos and don’ts in engaging staff and improving business results. Find her on Google+