Fighting Back the Fear: Six ways to hold on to your employees during a recession


From the Archives:

 Written by: Donna Gaines for an original piece with PSMJ Resources, Inc.

When employees live in fear for their jobs, your firm suffers. Stressed people can’t think clearly, and their negative feelings can affect other staff members. Your service quality can drop, and you risk losing clients.

And yet, many people during this recession do live in such fear, and with reason. Employees throughout the AEC industry are afraid of losing their jobs and of being unable to find another. We are receiving many more calls from active job seekers than we did one year ago. Even top performers are at risk.

Keep your staff in the loop; make them part of the process.

If your firm is at risk, how can you mitigate your employees’ fear, build their confidence, and keep them with you? Well, if you want your employees to stay loyal, you must do the same for them. Let them know you are on their side. Here are six things you can do:

  1. Let your employees know what is really going on. Gather your people together and tell them where your firm really stands. Keep nothing in the Bring them into a conference room and tell them the issues. Not knowing is intimidating. Your employees will manifest in their minds the worst-case scenarios that may not be true. Let your staff know your financial situation— your receivables and your “monthly nut.” Tell them, “Here’s where we are now.” Knowing the real problem will let them pull together faster.
  1. Have your staff locate new revenue-producing markets. Look into starting a graphic arts division or moving into facilities management. Investigate the area of homeland Think about doing CAD work or web site design for other AEC firms. Find new avenues, fresh endeavors. This will not only rekindle excitement and motivation, but increase your cash flow. As an example, Cannon Design ( has announced the development of a new consulting arm of the practice, called Cannon Consulting. Targeted toward providing health care companies with support and the tools to increase efficiency, the new practice is staffed by health care professionals with backgrounds in clinical, operational, and financial management.
  1. Cross-train through job sharing. Help your people build their skills so they can be more They will really know you stand behind them— that you care about them and not their position. Let them know you care about their career in a profession they worked hard to get into. So if one person does just schematics and another does CDs, set them up to learn each other’s jobs. Make it a collaborative effort; it will create great camaraderie.
  1. Offer in-house training and coaching. By bringing in HR consultants, you can help your staff work through stressful Team building, conflict resolution, stress management, employee orientation, sensitivity skills— all of these can help your staff know you care and strengthen their loyalty. Among others, I would recommend Paychex as a provider of these employee benefits (
  1. Stop spending. Again, meet with your staff and brainstorm how to tighten your belt so you can keep everyone Get your accounting people in there, too. Tell everyone you are spending too much money and must cut costs. Ask what they can suggest. Being on the frontlines, employees are often in the best position to find solutions. Keep your staff in the loop; make them part of the process. Get them to buy the problem instead of making them the enemy.
  1. Encourage personal Get your people taking care of themselves, both emotionally and physically. Allow a few “free” hours each week for the to-do personal things— whether it’s spending time with their kids, visiting a museum, or even just shopping. Close early on Friday. It’ll be a trade-off: although you won’t pay them for free time, the time itself is the payoff.

Encourage physical fitness at your firm. Look into getting a health club discount for your staff. Some insurance companies give consideration on premiums for firms with such plans. If you feel better physically during a stressful period, you’ll do a better job.

Donna Gaines, President (Emeritus) of Gaines International, a specialized professional search firm for the design building industries ( 

[This article will appear in the January 2009 issue of the PSMJ Newsletter. Due to the timeliness of the topic, we are sending a digital copy to our clients and friends prior to publication. We hope it helps lessen the stress during these trying times.]

To download the article click here:Fighting Back the Fear

To download the PSMJ Newsletter from January 2009 click here: PSMJ Jan 2009