Ask the Expert: V3 Issue 1


1. I normally take all work challenges in my stride. But with all this talk of recession, I am getting more stressed than usual. Is this normal? How can I reduce the stress levels that I am experiencing at my work place?

Yes, it is perfectly natural to feel more anxious than usual in such times. However, determine the exact cause of your stress. Is it workplace rumours of job cuts, lack of communication from the leadership or the hype by media about economy woes? Try to put the negatives into the right perspective. Differentiate between things under your control and those that you cannot influence at all. Focus on the aspects under your control.

Exploring your situation with experts could ease your fears. If required consult a financial planner who can help you plan for your financial security. Talk to recruitment consultants or successful professionals in your field of work to know what you need to work on to develop your career. When you know you can handle whatever comes your way you will automatically worry less about it.

Ticking off items from your ‘to do list in meeting long term objectives’ will help you feel you are getting somewhere and in control of your work life. That sense of accomplishment and control can act as a powerful stress reducer. If you don’t have a list, make one. Think about all the small, incremental things you can do to build career success over the course of a year, or five years; subscribing to a newsletter, attending a networking conference, practicing your presentation skills etc. Don’t focus only on the short term!

Take time off now and then to relax. Get into the habit of taking a few minutes several times a day to consciously manage stress. Do some stretching or slow breathing. Take a short walk. Chat with a colleague. And don’t forget the popular stress buster - a tea break. Figure out what works for you. Keeping in shape by taking daily walks and maintaining regular sleep and eating patterns is similarly important to reduce stress levels. Maintain healthy food habits. This will have a positive effect on your stress responses. Being physically fit is essential for you to be emotionally strong and mentally alert during trying times.

I think primarily it is your attitude to stress causing factors that matter. Look for the positives in your professional and personal life and actively build on them- it helps to maintain a positive attitude. With these I am sure you will be able to continue taking all your work challenges in your stride like you usually do.


2. Morale is low currently among employees and as the HR team member, I would like to do something about it. However since the recession has hit our company’s revenues quite badly, it will be difficult to get a budget approved for such activities. Can you suggest a few low cost measures to improve morale among employees?

There are lots ways by which you can improve employee morale. In fact the money spent is only one of the ingredients for increasing morale of employees. With a little creativity and lots of determination and sustained efforts, you can improve your employee morale. For starters get the managers of all employees to thank and praise their team members for their specific contributions. Employees prefer instant and personalized recognition from their immediate boss more than any other kind of workplace motivation. Sounds simple right? But you would be surprised how many managers neglect doing this. Formalize a program whereby managers regularly hand out commendations. Also ensure public recognition of exemplary work. Bulletin boards, company-wide emails, newsletters and meetings are different mediums for the same. You can even supplement it with inexpensive tokens of appreciation.

Employees are also more likely to become engaged in their work if they know their bosses are listening to them. Listening implies caring. Sensitize managers to this aspect and encourage managers to regularly move out of their desks and chat with employees. In addition to listening, companies should frequently communicate with their employees to help employees better understand department and company wide actions, increasing efficiency and encouraging team building.

Another cost-effective way to energize employees is by soliciting suggestions from employees, showing that their ideas are valued. So ask for suggestions related to the recession related measures being taken by the company, be it cost cutting or improving revenue streams. The more valued employees feel, the more likely they will display high morale. Another morale booster is getting employees involved in implementing the suggestions made.

Offering lots of autonomy and authority is another excellent way. Freedom fosters creativity, resourcefulness and a sense of ownership, and it establishes a foundation of mutual trust and respect. Discuss with managers on how they can be clear about job assignments and their expectations from team members, while also being open and flexible as to how the team members achieve results. The tough part is to get the managers to then start providing more autonomy and authority to their subordinates.

Finally, there is the good old “introducing the fun element” to work place. Formalize fun events that do not cost much. Some good examples are creating friendly competitions between employees and departments, providing employees the opportunity to showcase their talents, bring your pet/child/spouse to Work Day, get-to-know-your-colleague exercises, funny awards ceremony etc.

All the best and do write to us about how you improved (note we are not saying “if you”) the employee morale in your company. We would love to hear all about it.


Ask the Expert : V2 Issue 3

1. Our company is facing revenue, market, and cost pressures. Our stock price is down. There is a freeze on hiring and on raises. Motivation has never been a problem with my team members. But off late because of these developments, most of my team members are demotivated. How do I motivate my team in tough times like these?


It is natural for employees to feel low in the given circumstances. But over a period of time with the following steps you can improve and maintain the morale of your team.

  • Be transparent with company news: Be honest. Don’t hold back or play down information even if it is about the negative impact of the events on the company. Let them know what is happening and also what measures are being taken to counter each challenge.

  • Discuss and address fears and concerns: Your team members may be worried about job security, their compensation, and their ability to deliver in tough conditions. People typically need to talk more in such times. Be empathetic. Try and help them. For instance give extra support to the employees that are struggling to meet their job commitments or reassure them that their jobs are secure.

  • Highlight what is working: Has sales gone down, but company has bagged a couple of long term contracts? If so there is still cause to celebrate instead of just brooding. Veer discussions to the exciting possibilities that a downturn can bring in for your company and team, not just the gloom.

  • Give them something else to think about: Inspiring goals can energise and motivate people and help them get out of their depression. Help each of your team members set goals that they find inspiring. It could even be a personal goal like upgrading his/her skill set.

  • Help team remain focused on your team goals: It is easy to get distracted by what is happening and lose focus on the goals. Encourage and appreciate even the small achievements and short term goals met. And definitely reward those who meet their long term goals.

  • Thank them for their extra effort: In times like this every extra bit done to deliver results is helpful. Ensure you notice efforts like these and let each of your team members know how much you value their contribution.

In addition to the above, if you discharge your responsibilities of a leader calmly and confidently you are sure to regain the motivation of your team members.


2. I manage a small business unit. I am doing all I can to become lean and survive the economic slowdown. Unfortunately as one of cost cutting measures, I will have to layoff some of my staff. How can I do it as sensitively as possible?


Your objective during a layoff should be to treat the employees being laid off respectfully and minimize demoralization of your remaining staff.


Firstly be clear as to the business reasons for the need for a layoff. Then determine objective criteria like seniority, critical skills etc for selecting the people to be laid off. Having done this, prepare the relevant termination information like notification letter, salary continuation/termination date, benefits, outplacement, etc. It is also important to prepare yourself emotionally to handle the reactions of the employee. Now you are ready to have a meeting 


You should thank the employee for his or her contributions and explain how the layoff decision is economic rather than personal. Explain the criteria used for determining the people to be laid off. Allow the employee to respond. Listen patiently to what he he/she has to say but avoid getting into a debate or argument. Then explain the termination process. Some do's and don’ts….

  • Prepare a script for the key message so that you are clear as to what you are going to say.
  • Ensure there is consistency of message across all employees being laid off.
  • Keep the meeting as brief as possible.
  • Do not mix performance review with termination discussion.
  • Do not engage in small talk, use humor etc in an attempt to lighten up things.
  • Avoid discussing other employees

After meeting all the employees being laid off, immediately hold a meeting of all other employees to ward off rumors. In the meeting assure all of them that their jobs are secure and explain to them the rationale for the layoff and criteria used for the same. Let their managers once again reassure them about the security of their jobs in a one on one meeting.


3. I take care of HR for my company. I am very happy to see my leadership team trying to proactively do all it can to cope with the expected pressures of the economic slowdown. As the HR representative, I would like also to help. Typically what are the ways in which HR can contribute in such a scenario?


As always HR has to play an important role in ensuring business success by deploying appropriate people practices and processes.

Some steps which typically HR has taken, in companies that have come out of economic slowdowns as winners, are listed below.

  • Align with leadership team: Providing a proactive HR service in a downturn will become easy if you can work closely with the CEO and the leadership team. You will then be able to understand what is crucial to the business success. This in turn will help you align HR priorities to the organization priorities and develop robust plans.

  • Optimize Resources: These times can provide opportunities to hire some great talent otherwise not available to you easily. They may be available at a reasonable cost. Also transition or re-deploy non critical resources.

  • Communicate: Keep communication with employees flowing, about the true financial picture, about their jobs, about everything that can affect them through appropriate channels of communication.    You would be surprised at how often employees are willing to make changes even negative ones like a pay cut, when they understand the facts and are not worried based on rumours flying around the workplace.

  • Take care of your top talent: When you are busy fire fighting and stop paying attention to your top talent, they can become targets of poaching by other companies. It is critical you retain them not only for managing current business, but also for managing future business when things pick up. Keep them engaged by involving them in the initiatives taken to manage the impact of downturn.

  • Continue development efforts: Companies that continue their training efforts gain in the long term. It need not be expensive external training. It can be in the form of books, online training, mentoring, cross functional exposure etc.

  • Relook at your performance management: You may want to add some new dimensions to your performance parameters. In addition to the kind of results you would reward in a thriving economy reward the ones which help in tiding over challenges in a slow economy.

  • Preserve the core culture and values of the company: As the custodian of company culture and values, take steps to retain them. For instance don’t discourage ‘Research and Development’ efforts if company believes in leading the market through innovation.


These are challenging and hence also exciting times for HR professionals. If you truly want to add value to your company, I am sure you will rise to the occasion and find a way. All the best!

Ask the Expert: June'07

1. I lead a team of 5 people and I feel giving my team members feedback on their work can help improve the effectiveness of the team. But I am not sure how to do it the right way. So far my experience of giving feedback especially negative one has not been too good.

You are absolutely right; feedback can improve performance of team members which in turn will improve the effectiveness of the team as a whole. By giving negative feedback in a constructive way you can ensure that your feedback is meaningful to your team members. Some guidelines for that are:-

  • Be specific than general. “You made a good presentation” is general. “You managed the audience questions well” is specific.
  • Describe behavior only, do not interpret/evaluate. “You did not complete implementation as per schedule and delayed it by a week” is descriptive vis-à-vis “You are irresponsible” which is evaluative.
  • Provide feedback immediately after the occurrence of behavior.
  • Be focused on behavior that team member can change.
  • Do not mix negative and positive feedback. Examples of both are:-
    • Mixed:  “You did the project well, but you did not take any initiative to try out things.”
    • Unmixed: “On the positive side your project execution was good. You did it with no customer complaints. In the areas of improvement, you need to work on conducting handover training to the satisfaction of the users.”
  • Stimulate suggestions for improvement.
  • Stop if emotional issues surface and deal with them.


2. I know it is not right, but I am jealous of my colleague who is my competitor at work. How can I deal with this?

Being envious of others is a natural reaction and helps in pushing ourselves further to do better. But getting jealous about it and as a result creating negative energy in you is not helpful. It is a good thing that you are aware that it is not a helpful emotion.

Write down what makes you jealous of the colleague. Write down your own accomplishments.  Question yourself – “Are you working smart and hard?” “What behavior of your colleague is bringing him success?” “Are you leveraging your skills, and exceeding your targets?” With some self reflection you will be able to chart out a plan on what needs to be done for you to become as successful as your colleague.

If your colleague succeeds does not mean you cannot succeed. There is enough work and opportunities for everybody to do their bit in today’s corporate world as long as you are willing to work for it. Use all the energy spent in being jealous to do more and better at the work place. Also getting to know the person better may make you realize he/she is just like you and that you could actually be friends and learn from each other.


3. Two of my team members do not get along with each other and this is creating a lot of negative energy in the team. Shifting one of them to another team is not an option right now. As the team leader can I do something?

Yes, you can definitely take some steps to improve the situation.

  • As a first step analyze their recent conflicts, take inputs from their peers, and understand the dynamics at play.
  • Then individually counsel the two people involved them. Let them know how their conflict is affecting the team. Tie issues to business results so you focus on events or behavior not on personality traits. Even if people do not get along they can still work together effectively. Understanding reasons for their not getting along will help. Talk about what you have observed or know has happened, not about something someone else heard or saw.
  • Next step would be to set up a joint problem-solving approach to resolve the conflict.
    • Ask the team members involved to present their view points objectively.
    • Get agreement from them on the problem that needs to be solved. Say things to make them feel you want to solve the problem, not lay the blame. Have each of them generate possible solutions.
    • Get commitment on what each team member will do to solve the problem.
    • Summarize and set a follow-up date to make sure they are working together effectively.