Extract from a weekly coaching conversation with HR-manager Marjolein

Hello Frieda,

For our weekly chat, I would like to share a concern that I have been struggling with for some time.

As an HR-manager, I am close to our employees and close to the owners of our company.

We assume that our employees like to know what their contribution is to the success of our company. That is why they are regularly informed about innovations, new colleagues, new customers, investments, etc. Our management makes a strong point of bringing positive news only and not mentioning the negative.

However, the pandemic has severely impacted our business. Orders have fallen off, resulting in economic unemployment and redundancies. But the 'excitement' in our communications has remained... You cannot communicate that business is excellent, can you? That our employees have nothing to worry about?

Employees come to me as they get no response from the management with these kinds of questions. They ask me what's really going on, say that we should treat them like adults, that we should stop telling them stories. That bad news is better than fake news. Meanwhile, negative stories have developed and I hear that people are applying elsewhere.

I feel like I'm  sandwiched. My energy level is below zero. What should I do?

Well, Marjolein, that is a difficult situation. As a person who values integrity, I understand you have a hard time dealing with unreliable information that impacts the reputation of your management. I would have a hard time with that too. First, let's look at the reasons why management avoids negative news. There are three main reasons:

  • Do they feel the need to create or maintain a safe environment for their employees? Perhaps it has to do with the war for talent, by which they hope to retain their employees. sustaining continuity of the company.. Then we are talking about a survival mechanism.
  • Do they find it necessary to keep up their image of 'growth' company with regard to their employees and the outside world? Do they want to distinguish themselves from their competitors? If so, they may be suffering from a desire for 'recognition' or approval.
  • Do they think this kind of news gives them control over the situation? Wanting control is trying to ensure that everything in life goes as one wants. It is a mechanism that comes into play when the two previous needs are not adequately met.

With the insight that all needs can be reduced to these 3 basic desires, you can take the following steps.

1. Try to enter into dialogue in order to gauge which of the three needs are alive. It can be a combination of all three, but one will be more prominent.

2. Share with them the questions and concerns of the employees. Which of the 3 management needs are additionally at risk? What does that do to their feelings?

3. What happens if they do nothing with these issues? Are they prepared to take action?

4. Then comes the choice: what do they prefer?

By being honest with employees, they can correct their image internally. This kind of honesty creates respect and connection. Employees are less likely to 'let their company down'. 

By not being honest, the trust in the organisation will decrease sharply, internally and then externally. Needless to explain, this will have the opposite effect on their need for security.

If this exercise does not help, I advise you to stay close to yourself and ask yourself if you can or want to continue to tolerate this energy leak.

Good luck with this challenge! 

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