Hard times are bound to come for any company and that uncertainty can be a real struggle for employees.
Ray Zinn has employed thousands over his career, and in this edition of the Tough Things First podcast, he talks about having the courage to meet that challenge honestly.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, your guest host for this edition of the Tough Things First podcast. Hi, Ray, it’s good to be back.
Ray Zinn: Thank you, Rob. Good to have you with me today.
Rob Artigo: Well, Ray, the changing workforce picture can almost always be expected to lead some employees to exist in a kind of state of fear: fear of losing a job, getting passed over for a raise, not getting a promotion, that kind of thing. What is the main problem here as an employee manager when dealing with this problem?
Ray Zinn: Yes, good point because GM just announced they’re going to lay off thousands of people as they restructure their company and focus more on hybrids. Any time you announce that there’s going to be a restructuring or that the employees sense business is not so good, they’re going to fear losing their job. Fear is probably one of the most important and most fundamental issues that managers face with their employees because it’s frightening. Fear is something that we all dread, and we have a difficult time dealing with, so it is a concern.
I remember at Micrel, we had probably five different times that we had to cut back. We had to go to shorter work weeks, or we had to reduce salaries for a period of time. And of course, that freaks out everybody because their livelihood is being impacted. And I know you went through that same thing a few years ago when your company was sold.
And so, it is a fearful thing. Bad health is fearful also, or a family member that’s got health issues, and it’s very, very disruptive. So to deal with fear, of course, whether it be health or family problems or financial issues or losing your job or potentially losing your job, or getting passed over, you just have to keep a proper perspective. And so as they say, for every dark cloud, there’s a silver lining, so you just have to kind of weather the storm as they say. You know, there are the bright sunny days, and then there are days that are cloudy and full of doom and gloom. As the saying goes, these things too shall pass. So you have to have a perspective that things work out for the better. That’s the optimist, right?
In that movie or that play, Orphan Annie, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, there’s always tomorrow,” so you have to have that kind of perspective that things are going to get better or will get better even though you’re going through just a difficult time. I know that when I’m ill or when I’m feeling sick, I wonder if I’m ever going to get better, in fact I always think the worst. I think, “Oh my gosh, maybe this is the end. Maybe I’ve got cancer or maybe I’ve got some kind of a debilitating disease that’s never gonna go away.” So that’s the fear side of it. That we always think the worst. So if you think about plan for the worst, but hope for the best, then you know that things can go wrong, and they will go wrong, and that’s Murphy’s law, so whatever can happen, will happen. I was laid off probably five different times, and it’s a difficult situation, but it always worked out for the better.
Rob Artigo: Let’s move it up a couple of echelons and talk about, as a manager and you have any number of people, 10, 12, 50 people working on a staff, and among them you have this uncertainty. What are some of the ways to mitigate this uncertainty among the employees so that they maintain their productivity and their positive perspective, which obviously is what’s going to keep moving the company forward during tough times?
Ray Zinn: Well, you know, giving out the bad news is difficult for a manager to do. And so if you get it out, it’s like throwing up. You’re real sick, and you hate to vomit or throw up, but you get to feeling better afterwards. So that’s the key here is if you can get them the bad news, in other words, if you know it’s going to happen, get the news out there. Employees are willing to accept bad news as long as they don’t have to dream or think about it. So getting it out on the table, letting them understand what the situation is, is always the key to reducing the fear factor.
Rob Artigo: There have been times, obviously, when an employee might walk out of a company meeting and think, “Oh, the boss just,” or the new bosses or whoever they happen to be, “Fed us a line or two to sort of placate us for a while, but they know that the hammer is going to fall later on down the road.” I know that you’re the kind of guys that’s an honesty is the best policy kind of thing, but what is the danger of misleading employees in order to keep them on the straight and narrow when it comes to this kind of fear, when it comes to the potential layoffs and whatnot?
Ray Zinn: Well, I hate to use an age-old term, honesty is the best policy, because it will come back to bite you. So if you lead them on, if you tell them, “Ah, don’t worry, everything’s going to get better,” and that will placate them for a while, but then reality, when it comes, they’re going to say, “Oh, you’re just leading us on.” They won’t believe you after that. It’s like calling wolf. You’re gonna lose their respect, and they won’t look at you as being up front and honest.
Rob Artigo: Well, obviously, you mentioned my personal experience a few years ago, and I know from as an employer as an employee, there’s always going to be this … It seems like it’s almost always going to exist. Sometimes it’s going to be worse than it is at any given time, sometimes it’s going to be better for the employees, but there will always be employees who have some concern about their future. So the logic for the hard times works when you have to work with the smaller situations. You gave some great advice at the very outset. If somebody just comes to you and sits down at your desk and says, “Hey, Ray,” you have the open door policy, “Hey, Ray, I wanted to explain this to you. This is my fear.” And what is the one thing you’re most likely to say to them? And I believe I already know the answer which is you’re going to say, “Think about what good is going to come down the road.”
Ray Zinn: Well, depends upon what the bad news is. I worked for a company one time many years ago, and they had a loud speaking system where you could hit a particular number on your phone and you could then page somebody over the speaker system. So when they were having this difficult layoff, this idiot got on the phone and pretended he was from human resources and said, “Everybody that’s going to be staying with the company has been notified already.” So that sent shock waves through the 900 people that worked there as here they heard that if anybody is going to be staying has already been notified, which was strictly somebody being an idiot.
You’re going to have rumors. Rumors are going to fly. And of course, that’s what [inaudible 00:08:23] thinks. So you want to get the news out as quick as possible so that people that are like this idiot who did this years ago at our company, not at Micrel, but at where I used to work, who did that, won’t have any impact because the news is already out.
The best thing is to always get that news out as quick as possible and so that everybody knows where they stand. Because you can handle bad news if you know without having it conjured up in your mind, as long as you know what the outcome is going to be, you can at least deal with it. So that’s the key is get that information out as quick as possible, and let them know.
Now, what I found is that things generally work out for the better. And I think in your case, it’ll ultimately work out for the better even though it’s been a few years since you lost your job, you will work it out. You will end up in a better place than you were when you were there. It doesn’t feel that way right now because you’re struggling. But at some point in time, when you look back on it in a few years, you’ll say, “Well, this has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me because it now required me to do this or this or that.” So maybe move to a different location, maybe a different career, whatever, it always seems to work out for the better.
Rob Artigo: Thank you, Ray, appreciate it. You can count on Ray to have a lot of answers to your questions. If you check it out over at toughthingsfirst.com, you’ll find more podcasts, you’ll find the blogs, links to information about the book, Tough Things First. Also, check out Ray’s new book, The Zen of Zinn, and also please, go to your favorite podcast source, probably the one you’re listening to right now, and give this podcast a rating to help spread the word about the work that Ray Zinn is doing right here on the Tough Things First podcast. I look forward to the next time, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Well, thanks, Rob. Appreciate this one.