Cathy Brown: How can employers support staff in uncertain times?


We all know we live in an uncertain world these days. We talk about volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, worry about the pace and dynamic of change, and the impact this has on us. On a day-to-day basis though, we can ignore these things on a practical level because they are so nebulous, they are not real to us. They are too vague and too much in the future to make us change our behaviour, either personally or organisationally. They leave us with an underlying level of stress though, that affects our behaviour at work and at home.

That world has fundamentally changed in 2016. The reality of Brexit is here and now, giving us huge uncertainty and a host of unwelcome side effects. The impact of the US election results and others to come is immediately apparent. The norm of uncertainty that we had got used to living with has been swept away and we are left shivering.

Businesses in tune with their people will start to tackle this uncertainty. Not in a paternalistic, ‘pat you on the head and tell you it will all be okay’ way, but in peer-to-peer conversation with employees.

At Engage for Success, we suggest the four enablers of engagement as a starting point for those conversations: strategic narrative; engaging mangers; employee voice; and organisational integrity. Tell the story of the organisation and make space that people to connect to it emotionally and rationally, creating meaning and purpose for themselves. Make sure managers can manage well, treating people as individual human beings, trusting them and coaching them effectively. Listen to what people have to say, and develop a genuine dialogue, even if you as a manager or leader do not have the full picture either. And, finally, ground yourself in your values, it gives the organisation a steady point of reference in a changing, uncertain world.

Cathy Brown is executive director at Engage for Success