Gillian Hibberd, president of the Public Sector People Managers Association: United approach will help to survive the crisis

These are difficult times and there are tough decisions to make. The recession has impacted on organisations so quickly, they must be flexible to survive. Short-term approaches, or panic-induced cost-cutting, can be destructive and take years to undo.

Now, more than ever, organisations must recognise that their employees are their most important asset. It is crucial that they understand, and respond to, the increasing demands being placed on their staff. When facing the challenges of this economic downturn, employers need managers who can motivate and engage staff, and giving managers the appropriate support and tools to achieve this will be key.

If they are to survive the crisis, organisations need to focus on a number of factors.

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First, they must trust employees with information about the financial impact of the recession and involve them in thinking about what is needed to steer the organisation through.

Senior management will need to take decisive action. The worst thing an organisation can do is be vague and unclear about what is going to happen. Staff want to know what to expect and how they, personally, will be affected.

Also, a collective sense of purpose needs to be created. Employees must be engaged with their company through bad times as well as good. They need to feel a sense of challenge and personal commitment to help the organisation survive.

Employers must also be empathetic about how employees may be feeling. Don’t cut back on support and services that will help people make the transition from their current roles to new positions or help them move on from the organisation.

Strong, confident and visible leadership will be needed throughout. Leadership teams should give consistent messages to the organisation, engendering a sense of trust and commitment from employees.

The key challenge for all organisations is the degree to which they succeed in engaging their employees. The very best employers will respond to the economic turmoil by being decisive and not underestimating the human aspect of change, while letting their employees know they care, and creating an overall commitment to survival.

Gillian Hibberd, president of the Public Sector People Managers Association (PPMA)