A question for ya: What is the financial crisis doing to your workplace?

new_bookI just began working on my second book which has been fast-tracked by the publisher for a publishing date in May this year. If you know the publishing industry at all, you’ll know that’s fast; usually it takes 12-18 months to get a book out.

The theme for the new book is happiness at work in a crisis. This is of course inspired by the current financial crisis but the book is directed at any workplace in trouble. And now I need your help!

The book has three central claims:
1: Most of what companies traditionally do in a crisis doesn’t work.
The way many organizations typically handle crises is by cutting back on all expenses and doing mass layoffs. While this can be necessary, studies actually show companies who choose this approach recover more slowly.

2: It is possible to be happy at work even in a workplace in trouble.
Of course it’s easier to be happy when everything is going swimmingly, but people can still be happy at work in a crisis. It takes determination and focus, but it can be done. Surprisingly, a crisis can make people happy at work, provided that it becomes a reason for people to focus and pull together – rather than an excuse to give up.

3: Happy workplaces get out of a crisis faster.
Especially in a crisis, an organization needs to get the best out of its people – and when we’re happy at work we are more motivated, creative and productive.

Here’s how you can help: Give me your story.

Is your workplace in trouble? What does that do to you and the people around you? How is it affecting morale, motivation and happiness at work? How is your organization facing the crisis? Is it working – or is it actually making things worse?

And one final thing: I need a kick-ass title. Any and all suggestions are most welcome.

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24 thoughts on “A question for ya: What is the financial crisis doing to your workplace?”

  1. Hey Alex, really looking forward to reading the book when it comes out. The only tidbit that I can offer is that large volumes of openness, honesty and transparency go along way. If you share the problems and give everyone the facts and invite their questions, ideas and help then you’ve got a much better chance of getting everyone on-side and pulling together to get through the hard times.

  2. What many companies do in this crisis situation is what I have heard called a “Medical Diagnosis”. Determine prescript and cut!
    Determine the problem and Kill IT!

    This system does lower effectiveness as well as profits and like you mentioned slow recovery.

  3. Content, examples, title… – dude, why don’t you just let us write the freakin’ book for ya as well!?? Just kidding ;-).

    Hot and interesting subject.
    I’m an entrepreneur, and the tips of the crisis flames snatches my rear as well. What I do in this crisis, is that I try to expand in my businesses. The crisis gives a tremendous opportunity for being focused and creative, and look at all the business opportunities it also creates. This process is highly motivational, subsequently leading to a great climate of ‘togetherness’. In some ways, I feel I have more fun with my collaboration partners now than before. We are determined on what we do, because it has become more obvious what is important – and that, in some way, gives us more ‘rest’ to have fun and be creative around it.

    That’s it for now – I need to get back to my fun and focused work ;-).

  4. Here’s a story for you. The crisis has spooked many of our clients. When they reign in spending, we can’t turn our frowns upside down. So of course, the rumor mill kicked into overdrive with the prospect of layoffs.

    Most of us were miserable, distracted and less productive than we were before (I really hope this wasn’t just me). To make matters worse, management wouldn’t talk about the prospect of layoffs, so any rumor that was voiced was a punch in the gut.

    After many weeks the company president talked about it. The news wasn’t great, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as we were thinking. Within a day the rumor mill ground to a halt, anxiety levels went back to normal. The solution was so simple! Just talk to us. Let us know that the economy is bad, but we are working very hard to avoid layoffs.

    As for the book title, how about “Happiness at work: Things (probably) can’t get any worse.”

  5. One of the most critical elements for staff is certainty. People find it more difficult to deal with the unknown than anything else.
    Clearly, in this economic climate, its hard to have much certainty, but if staff know that they are being kept informed at every step, and they believe the messages they are getting from the management team – its much easier for them to cope with the uncertainty in the economy as a whole.

    Knowing the real situation gives people the opportunity to make a real contribution and to play a significant role in the future of the organisation. This means they feel empowered to make some difference to their own future in the process, and they are operating as a team. Being part of something bigger than themselves is a hugely motivating factor. But it has to start with communicating the real state of the company to them. Transparency is absolutely key.

  6. I work for a nonprofit, and while we do not serve basic human needs (we’re not a soup kitchen or anything like that), we’re fortunate to be doing okay. Two things. Yes, some donors have not been able to support at the same level as in the past, especially some from industries that have been hard hit. The other side of this coin is that people are recognizing that others have it worse off and want to help. So while places like soup kitchens and homeless shelters seem more relevant (and not undeservedly, I’m glad people are supporting those organizations), even a youth development organization like ours can seem a bit more relevant, especially since our programs teach kids things like the importance of work ethic, personal responsibility, and making good decisions for one’s future. I think that the staff, knowing that it’s going to be harder to get funding in this economy, is even more motivated. Yes, our jobs are on the line, but so are vital programs that will reap countless rewards in the future–kids who grow up to be healthy, self-sufficient adults who contribute to society. I’m sure this holds true at other nonprofits. We’re all stretched thin and we’ve got to push even harder, but we know we’ve got people depending on us to make it happen.

  7. It’s making upper management clamp down and squeeze the fun out of work. They feel if they can watch over every little thing that everything will be okay. It’s tough working in this environment. I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t take anything personally.

    As for a kick ass title…hmmm…

    How about, “Happiness will fast forward a company crisis”
    “Happiness Trumps Crisis Every time”

  8. The crisis will actually create new opportunities and if you communicate this well, in order to get everybody to pull in the same direction, you will have the small daily win experiences that create happiness at work.

    In our case as a corporate charter company, many of our clients are cutting down on costs, selling their airplanes, which we have under management, etc. However, the airlines are in really bad shape and as they cut routes, have cancellations and delays, the business travellers are turning to us for a more efficient and flexible travel arrangment. Actually, we are doing the same business with different clients, which will be a great base for the times, when the economy is normal again. Explain this new focus and people will avoid just seeing the end of the traditional client.

    Beside the fact that competitors are for sale at realistic prices and staff is readily availble. Now is the time to move – and in expanding companies you create happy working environments much easier.

    For a title: Move and be happy!

  9. As many have said, communication is critical to kill the rumor mill. But another important factor is ensuring employees are recognized and shown appreciation for their efforts. We’ve been tracking the impact of employee recognition at some of our largest clients (Fortune 500s) and actually saw employee recognition efforts dramatically INCREASE as the Dow and consumer confidence index plummeted.

    Why is this happening? The best of human nature at work.Eric Mosley, our CEO, says it best:

  10. Hi Alex,

    I came to think of this: To most of us, the crisis is something that is happening to ‘society’ or to the others. But an important factor in getting over this low fast is realising that it is happening to ‘us all’, and therefore for all of us to mobilize strength and energy to do things differently. I am thinking of the thousands of hairball orbiters just hoping to sit through the crisis – this crisis is a fantastic opportunity for them to show their special worth and thus – in starting to make a difference for a higher goal – get a feel for what real happy means.

    If you will allow me to polish my own aura here for a second: My recebt contribution to survivak was to suggest a new org setup which got rid of myself and thereby saved some money. Some now say I am first in line to get sacked – how do you like that logic?
    A lot of my colleagues have used the phrase ‘i just want to strap down now and stay put’ – Alex can you please kick their butts??


  11. Alex,

    The work you are doing is fantastic…I have been in corporate America my entire life, and it is true that even in the midst of RIFs and budget cuts, the workforce can be motivated and happy if leadeship understands the right actions to take (or not take)…and more importantly, if leadership is willing to listen and change.

    I have recently published “The Short Book on Happiness” available on amazon.com and in bookstores soon. I hope you enjoy it.

    David Cane

  12. How an organization handles crisis is indicative of organizational culture as a whole. If a foundation of teamwork and genuine concern for co-workers has been laid beforehand, then it’s easier for employees to stay happy throughout the crisis and probably less likely that the management will take a slash-and-burn approach to survival. However, if the foundation of teamwork and genuine concern for co-workers wasn’t there before (across staff AND management), it’s unlikely it will suddenly come together in the midst of a crisis.

  13. Alex,
    Let me start by saying I find your blog very interesting. Have read it quite extensively though this is the first time I am posting anything on it.

    On this subject, indeed, my company is doing pretty much what you would expect most companies to do : layoffs, belt-tightening.

    You know what the funny thing is. I don’t really find any impact on the production or service levels. And that, without people necessarily breaking their backs.

    What does this tell me ? Something I always suspected. That the company had a fair share of overhead. That it has now had to shed. I angered a senior VP once by suggesting that 50% of the company was overhead. I apologised a couple of months later – saying that I had been wrong. It was closer to 70%. I was obviously exaggerating and just being provocative, to make a point. It was not the degree that was important, it was the feeling that some of us were carrying many others in the company.

    Some of that has changed. Yes, the emphasis is on “some”. The sad thing is that there is still a fair amount of that going around. In times of crisis, man’s survival instinct becomes more fine-tuned than ever. And guess who has the best survival instinct ? The one who instinctively knows that he is, all said and done, “overhead” and whose insecurity makes him even more machiavellian in his methods.

    So, funnily, a financial crisis ends up needing more “management”. While the pie is getting smaller, it needs to be “managed” more.

    Not all is doom and gloom though. The good thing is that at least now those extravagant projects, which never delivered anything but which had unlimited resources – time, money, people – thrown at them, are coming under scrutiny. Hopefully there will be some accountability also if there are further cost over-runs and delays.

    Interesting times – and you know what ? I am really enjoying them.

    A title for your book – borrowing from what somebody said (I don’t quite remember who) :
    “The tide is down : are you swimming naked ?”


  14. Hello Alex, I think this is a great topic to talk about, and I really am glad that you’re writing about it. Here is our Story. I worked at a company named Ebclosion. We are a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Company that uses technology as a tool for solving everyone’s problems, but must importantly be happy. We’re based in Guatemala, Central America. As you can see we are based on a third world country, which for us in not a problem or limitation, is something We are proud of. We teach and share company values, and worship companies that share happiness and fun in their environments like google, southwest, etc.

    Our approach regarding the economic crisis is simple. We are not concern, we are not scared, we are not insecure. Why? Part of our values and motivation as a company is that we can’t be harm or affected by the economic crisis, since We are working on a daily basis to develop technological solutions one step ahead of our competitors and customers. Most of our market is not currently on the streets. Our market is the result of all the new ideas and projects that we are developing for our customer in order to fulfill the current needs with original ideas, and most importantly future needs. We do not adapt to the current technological and financial environment. If there is no environment at all, We create one.

    With all this considerations, We see the economic crisis not as a problem, but as an opportunity to create, grow, and develop. There are no limits for us. We never stop.

    Our CEO constantly shares this philosophy with all our family (We are no coworkers, we are family). He always states that we shall not see the crisis as a time of fear. Believe it or not since the beginning of the economic crisis we haven’t made a single layoff. We are Growing, exponentially. I’m the best example of it. I used to work as a consultant for EBclosion, now I’ll start in march as the new head of technology. We keep hiring, winning projects worldwide. As we always state, EBclosion will conquer the world :) :)

    We will be glad to share our philosophy and values with You in order to help you with Your book and help people realize that this is an oportunity.

    We will also be glad, if You can, to visit us here in Guatemala and share our everyday philosophy. We want to share and help every company be like us.

    Best Regards

  15. Dear Alex,
    I’ve been following your site for nearly a year now (this is my first time posting a coment here!) and find it to be amazing and fantastic, full of great ideas for happiness & creativity in the workplace! I’ve bought a copy of your book and my supervisor also purchased a copy of your book upon my recommendation; she has also implemented some of the ideas that I found at this site such as The Order of the Elephant (I sewed it together!) and recently she tried the Praise Poncho for some of our line staff with great results…

    That said, I have to admit that the general culture here at the non-profit I currently work for is not the best, in my humble opinion, and it’s going to be more difficult since we are based in California where the state budget has gone MIA for many months! I’m lucky to work for such a great boss who is open to new ideas, but some of the things that have happened within this agency as a whole regarding finances have been to cut all pay increases for the fiscal year – this has not made many people happy and it comes up in meetings in regards to ‘why bother doing evaluations since no one is getting a pay increase?’ Also, they have cut breaktime down from 15 minutes to 10 minutes, which I found rather funny since it will still wind up being 15 minutes after all the bustling before and after taking a break!! ;) Though one of the ‘values’ held by this agency culture is “Transparency” I have not found this to be the case in general and have been looking for other opportunites elsewhere before the financial situation here gets really dire…

    Having read your book and your blog has been tremendously helpful to me in the last year in regards to the levels of stress I have experienced in this job at this agency and plan on taking your great ideas with me to my next job! Thank you so much for your creativity and for being the Chief Happiness Officer! You really ROCK, Alex!!

    BTW: if you’re looking for a title for your book you could try “Crisis = Opportunity: When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Happy and Creative!”
    Or you could try the title proposed by Mike King – “The Nemesis of Crisis: How Happiness Delivers Success”;I think it’s a great title =)

    Warm regards =)

  16. Alexander –

    I don’t have any stories for you yet, but I gave you a shout out on your blog.

    My guess is that we’ll have some folks shoot you some stories ASAP!

    Keep up with the great work and keep spreading the love!

    Can’t wait to read that book when it’s done!

    Good stuff!


  17. I actually checked this blog today -specifically- for that reason. It’s not looking so good right now and, despite the fact that I’m happy at my job, this climate is putting a real down mood on everything.

    I’m afraid I can’t go into specifics. But the gist of it is, in my field, when people’s budgets are tight and you work in what’s effectively a service industry, you have (a) fewer agents (companies, government bureaus, etc.) giving you contracts for work, (b) existing clients reducing contract sizes, and therefore (c) less utilization of personnel.

    I’ll likely check this book out when it’s released–you really think you can put it together in such a short timeframe? K

  18. You said the publisher is fast-tracking this book? I don’t understand. I thought your books were vanity-published through LuLu.com. They don’t have publishing cycles. Self-publishing is instant, right?

  19. During a crisis it is imperative to communicate, communicate, communicate! It’s difficult to keep employees engaged when you’re having layoffs, but constant open, honest communication can help allay fears.

    I liked Raj’s suggestion – “The tide is down; are you swimming naked?”.
    Or you could try “Finding Happiness During a Depression”


  20. I completely agree with you Alex, the best way to cope up with the crisis is not to axe people, but to sensitize them about the ground situation, by the way making them more responsible and they will always be ready to bear the burden. Its incongruous to leave the people in lurch. Its a BAD HABIT!

  21. Hi All,

    Well, I agree with you John, it is much better for business leaders and employees to come together as a team and to work through the crisis creatively. To make more sack more people only adds to the poverty consciousness in the country – and less people have money to boost the economy again.
    On a different note, the stress of losing one’s job can really rock relationships. Sometimes it is harder, even, for the partner to watch it all. It’s heart breaking.

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