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02 December 2023

Managing turbulence at the workplace

By Adrian Furnham

Economic and organisational crises can lead to dramatic changes at work. Many activities cease, some organisations freeze then cut budgets on things they think less essential. Favourite targets usually are recruitment and training, then advertising and marketing and, if they have it – R&D.

Making an error in management at this point has cost many organisations dearly.

Communication of all sorts changes in a crisis. Some senior managers hide or go silent. The PR machine either goes into over-drive or itself is cut. The organisation may suddenly become the focus of press interest which may not be welcome. There are soon announcements of general "belt tightening" policies. Pension schemes are closed, budgets slashed, people are not replaced.

Ordinary people – indeed those at all levels – begin to get worried, even frightened. Many are concerned about being made redundant and whether the organisation will have a LIFO or FIFO policy (Last/First in, first out). Many worry about wage freezes co-occurring with mortgage payment hikes as well as the increase in the cost of living. Those working on an hourly basis see a reduction in their hours.

Often, the problem in such times is that many take their eye off the ball, which leads to a self-fulfilling vicious cycle. And it goes like this: People are anxious, this can lead to illness and poor decision-making just at a time when you need health and reality most. This can in turn lead to poor productivity and customer service which leads to yet more reduced profits which in turn leads to more anxiety.

The management of people is essentially about five things. First is the recruiting of talented, productive and motivated people. Then, one needs to select the best and reject the less able. Third, one must remember that essentials of management are two-fold, to engage their head and heart so that they are maximally happy and productive.

Fourth, there is the necessity of developing staff so that you enable individuals to reach their full potential. Finally, managers need to know how, when and why to let go of people so that they leave with dignity and positive feelings about the organisation.

People stay productive and loyal because of many things: Their personality, values and life situation; their available opportunities but most frequently because of the way they are managed. At the end of the day, we are all people of the head and people of the heart.

So then, is managing in turbulent times essentially different from the same job in good times? Not really, but it does take more effort, more skill and more resilience.

The writer is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Professor of Psychology at University College, London and a leading consultant on organisational behaviour. The views expressed are his own


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