NEW YORK - Robert Fellman can see it on his employees’ faces: the fear, stress and discomfort that come from a difficult, even scary economic climate.
“There’s panic in their eyes,” said Fellman, director of PC Professor, a computer training company with offices in Boca Raton and West Palm Beach, Fla.
He also hears it when they try to reassure him that they’ll do whatever it takes to keep their jobs: “If there’s anything you need done, I’ll accept the criticism, just let me know,” is what he hears from staff members.
American workers are living through an extremely stressful time, between falling home values, rising food and energy costs and worries about job security. On top of all that, many people are aware of the crisis that has enveloped the financial system, and those with savings in the stock market are seeing their retirement nest eggs shrink.
Like Fellman’s employees, many workers bring their stress into the small businesses where they work. His staff members are mainly uneasy, but at other companies, the symptoms may be more disruptive: angry outbursts, frequent absences, a loss of productivity — problems that business owners have to deal with.
How they handle a situation depends on the source of the stress. If, like Fellman’s staff, it grows out of job insecurity, human resources professionals recommend a boss be up-front about what’s going on with the company, let them know what the challenges are and what needs to be done about them.
There are two important reasons for this approach. One, a lack of information breeds even more stress. Second, if employees know what the company needs to do to succeed, they can help make it happen.
If a small business has to resort to layoffs or other cutbacks, it’s best to do them at one time, if that’s possible, said Dean Debnam, president of Workplace Options, a work-life consultancy based in Raleigh, N.C.
“Don’t dribble it out,” he said. “Figure it out and do it all at once, and announce what the plan is — rather than torture everyone else who’s staying with when the next shoe is going to drop.”
An owner can also help reduce stress by giving out some positive feedback and saying “thank you” more often for workers’ efforts.