How to: Motivating your team in a recession

How to: Motivating your team in a recession

Consultant and author Hoda LaceyThere is a new generation of workers out there who have never had to deal with a recession before, many of them young counter staff in retail agencies.
As one manager confided: “How am I meant to keep my team motivated when I’m as worried as they are about losing my job?”  

Motivation is an inner spark. You can’t motivate anyone to do anything. But you can provide the right conditions for them to flourish.

Financial reward will get people out of bed and into the workplace; motivation is what encourages them to work harder when they get there.

As  a team leader – whether you are managing a branch or a bigger team – consider revisiting your vision, style and strategies to ensure that, when the green shoots appear and you look behind you, your team are still following.

Walk the talk

Your mood and behaviour will significantly influence your team emotionally.

You can’t nurse your worries privately. You will be under intense scrutiny from your team for clues as to what is going on.

Avoid adopting tragic or threatening expressions. Keep calm, positive and carry on as usual.

Uncertainty can lead to stress, so be aware of signs such as a lack of attention, huddles around the coffee machine and unexplained absences.

Communicate honestly

First understand and then seek to be understood. Find out what is going on, if necessary.

False reassurance does more harm than good. If you can’t speak for the whole organisation, then reassure your immediate team. Otherwise, the gossip grapevine will take control.

Manage Survivor syndrome

If redundancies have to be made, it is kinder to get them over and done with rather than prolong the agony and tension.

When the cull is over, you will be working with a team of people who are likely to feel frightened, resentful, demoralised and guilty.

Share these emotions with your staff, but don’t dwell on the past. Keep your team busy and focused on the tasks ahead.

Keep the troops engaged

In tough times, you need to create a rallying cry to keep your people focused. Create a recession slogan or adopt a song – Things Can Only Get Better, I Will Survive – to inject some humour into the workplace.

Encourage creativity and innovation. Involve your staff in adapting your product or services to suit customers’ changing needs. Remind people constantly of the great product or service you are selling.

Find out what makes your staff tick  

People are motivated differently. Some will move towards success and others away from failure.

Some will be target and bonus driven (carrot), others through fear of losing their job or their peer’s respect (stick).

Personalise your motivation techniques and learn to use the tools appropriately.

Re-skill and cross train

Get people trained to do different tasks and allow them to shadow high performers.

You can create a low-cost learning plan that will engage staff and create a better skilled, more adaptable workforce when business picks up.

Make use of quieter moments

How? It could be any number of things...

  • Overhaul systems and procedures
  • Throw out or archive old files
  • Reorganise your workspace
  • Make appointments for visits from contacts
  • Organise sales campaigns or local promotions
  • Conduct a skills audit

Tackle whatever you need to ensure you are prepared for the upsurge when it returns.

Remember, even in the Great Depression, some companies thrived because they were able to identify and capture opportunities.

With a little more effort and creativity, you, too, can emerge stronger and more resilient.

Hoda Lacey is a performance development consultant and author. Visit her website at



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