Editor’s note: Barry H. Beith, Ph.D., is president of HumanCentric Technologies in Cary and a regular contributor to Local Tech Wire.The last two years have brought with them wave after wave of disillusion and anxiety. The loyalties of employees have been tested as much if not more than the confidence of day-traders in the market.

Employees have watched and listened as executives have lied, cheated, and stolen even beyond the sometimes absurd levels of compensation received in the face of sometimes crushing company losses and even bankruptcy. Employees have endured massive layoffs from corporation after corporation. They have heard stories of pension plans diverted and even robbed to satisfy the greed of company leaders.

For every story about such events, there are assumed to be many other examples that don’t make the news. What often gets missed is that for every negative example there are many opposite examples of support and loyalty and shared risk and pain on the part of company owners and executives and managers.

For example, there was the story in the late 90’s of the Massachusetts textile manufacturer whose factory burnt to the ground and chose to keep the entire staff on payroll for almost two years until the factory could be rebuilt. When asked about it, the owner of the company responded by saying that he was in his 80’s, what better use of the millions he had made than to keep people employed and rebuild. The reward for his virtue was bankruptcy within two years.

Unfortunately, bad news outweighs good in the memory traces of humans, and in bad times, it is those memories that drive too much of our outlook, confidence level, belief structure, and assumptions. It is a sign of these tough times that the convergence of a tough economy, poor leadership, and questionable if not illegal executive behavior has lead to a loss of trust, a lack of loyalty, and a positive outlook diminished to the point of paranoia.

Who can blame employees? Even IBM not only left the days of full guaranteed employment behind but its reputation for respect for the individual and loyalty to it’s employees as well. The former may have made good business sense but the latter shook the very core of the principles for which IBM had been known and respected for decades.

It was just business, nothing personal.

What a load.

Business is very personal. The relationship between employer and employee is one of the most personal of all because there should be trust and positive expectations running throughout such relationships. An employee spends 25 percent of their lives going to work and, ideally, doing good things for their companies. While careers and work may not be the top priority, they are nonetheless important and vital to most people’s ability to focus on, fulfill, and enjoy the top priorities, e.g., family, children, church, avocation, etc.

Good work means better attitudes

The attitudes, emotions, and anxieties associated with work can impact severely all the rest of their lives. The well-being, self-perception, level of hope, spirit of optimism are all driven to a large extent by work and the perceived state of it. When work is good and the future looks strong, people are optimistic and confident and bolder in their lives. It is infectious and it is magic.

One hundred million workers in this state of mind and heart provide synergism on which nations build and grow stronger, make better decisions and influence better futures. Why is it that we now focus on the 6 percent that are unemployed and fret over the future rather than interpret this in a positive light in which 94 percent who want to work have jobs and work?

Employers, even the good ones, cannot change tough times into good times. Like their employees they are subject to the many factors beyond their control, sometimes beyond their knowledge, that create the economic environment in which they must survive. How then can employers help employees to whether the storm, assess the future and face it without paranoia, and remain confident in themselves, their leadership, and their companies?

The bottom line is communication. Employees fill information voids with rumors and perceptions. Too often, these rumors and perceptions are wrong and are fueled by paranoia, anxiety, self-doubt. All the things that drive down our better self, sap our energy, and change our priorities and relationships. Employers must keep the information voids to a minimum by communicating to employee the status of their market and their company and the measures being taken to persevere in the face of a tough economy and the unknowns it produces. Let the employees know that you really are all in this together even if the view from the bridge is quite different from steerage.

Employers must realize that loyalty is a powerful but brittle tie that binds employer and employee together. Once cracked, it is almost impossible to repair. Employers, however, must remember that employees can be resilient, are adult in most cases and therefore can understand that some economic conditions are beyond control.

Honesty must be practiced and both at the perceived and the real levels of communications. Employers and employees need to understand and agree that every job from top to bottom involves “crap and cream,” it’s just a matter of what proportion you can tolerate.

All should share in pain

In tough times, everyone tends to understand that the “crap” increases, but it should increase from everyone in a somewhat equal amount. Employees inherently understand the meaning of this when they ask that managers and executives share the pain. Oftentimes executives are hesitant to participate because they perceive their pain in loss of income or benefits or perks to be disproportionate.

The truth is that that’s not true. Leadership demands that the perception of the employee be that when the going gets tough, the management and the executives especially roll up their sleeves and pull on the oar.

Another important factor during these tough times is that however important the executives have decided that the shareholders are, the employees cannot perceive that the shareholder are more important than them. When workers feel that their efforts are less important that the dollar in someone else’s pocket who may not even know the company or the business, then they begin “fighting with ghosts” and the information voids grow huge very rapidly. Companies in which such declarations become a part of the perceptions and beliefs of the employees have a very tough row to hoe.

Executives during tough times must remember that employees have very emotional ties to their jobs in many if not most cases. These ties often go beyond the paying of bills to the very foundation of self-esteem and confidence in the future. Why?

Because business is very personal.

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HumanCentric: www.humancentrictech.com