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Five Common Mistakes to Look Out for in the Communication of Short-Time Working

Fabian Scholz and Nora Vester about common Mistakes while communicating short-time working.

With its decision to lower the requirements for short-time working, the German government has given many companies significant leeway in the current economic climate. Employment agencies are already registering a record increase in applications for short-time work compensation, but what may be a sensible step from a business perspective isn’t necessarily also understood as such by employees. Given the growing uncertainty of many employees, short-time work should be introduced in a sensitive and transparent manner.

Below, we consider five communication errors with which management can endanger trust by unnecessarily upsetting employees.

 

Silence | "The situation is so confusing that it is best not to tell our staff anything at first."

From an employer's perspective, reluctance to communicate a salary reduction is understandable. However, insisting one day that salaries are safe and then announcing short-time work another can wreak havoc on an employees' trust in management, trust which is absolutely necessary in uncertain times.

So much for the theoretical aspect. Given the fact that many companies can only decision make in the short-term and are dependent on yet unmade political decisions for the long-term, implementing long-term planning and communication in practice proves more difficult. All the more important, then, to be forthcoming with information at an early stage, and to ensure that clarity will come as soon as the situation can be reassessed or the political or economic framework changes. Consistent language is key: management must ensure consistent communication and reduce the risk of misunderstandings and the power of rumors.

All of this not only requires maximum transparency on management’s part, but also means that decisions and changes must be legitimized and clearly communicated. If the end result alone is communicated to the workforce, a lot of trust will already have been lost.

 

Underestimating the Situation | "It'll be alright... People can be glad they still have a job at all."

Having saved jobs in the company does not absolve management from the responsibility of explaining cutbacks to the workforce in a way that is comprehensible and empathetic. For many employees, short-time work comes with considerable economic cuts which may in many cases also threatens livelihoods. In addition, many industries and a new generation of employees are confronted with the issue of short-time work for the first time. Every decision-maker must be aware of this fact and should inform every individual in the company to the best of their abilities, while being open to discuss individual challenges with individuals.

The fact that most employees are working from home and personal discussions with managers and personnel officers are currently being kept to a minimum makes things even more difficult. Home office isolation, if management fails to stay in touch, carries the risk that the workforce will turn to other, often contradictory sources of information. Pessimists on the internet may further unsettle employees.

Employees should have no reason to seek information individually from the Internet, or to go as far as to even seek legal assistance. Communication formats which allow for horizontal and vertical exchange within the company are therefore necessary at an early stage. This could include team calls or individual discussions between employees and managers, or HR.

 

A Higher Power | "Employees trust management to do the right thing.”

An existing good relationship between management and employees is a great bonus for any company. However, now is a very bad time to put such a relationship to the test. Instead, it’s important to stick together and jointly find new solutions for cooperation and for economic survival. This team spirit can only be created through comprehensible and transparent decisions on part of management.

Even an existing relationship of trust can currently be destroyed if employees feel they are being ignored. This results in a loss of motivation, which is currently more important than ever. Company decision-makers and employees are both very nervous in view of the economic situation. That's why the following applies: involve the workforce in step-by-step implementation and always explain cutbacks transparently, for example through regular mails or FAQs.

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