The predictions are dire. GM is closing its car manufacturing plant and thousands of people in Oshawa will be out of work in a year. The supply chain will be affected and jobs will be lost across a multitude of businesses in Canada and the US. The town will wither and die just like other places where large car manufacturers have shut down operations. Fear, dread, and paranoia are feeding the news cycle. But, the truth is, no one really knows what the future holds.

While plant closures such as this certainly have an impact, especially on the affected employees and their families, the fate of the businesses in those towns and of the employees themselves may be determined more by the choices they make, than by the choices that are made for them.

The plant closing ripple effect

Businesses in manufacturing towns often feel the ripple effect of announcements of pending plant closings as people begin tightening their belts in preparation for the inevitable. Beyond the employees directly impacted by the plant closing, everyone else in that community is suddenly acutely aware of the tentative nature of employment and most likely cutting back on their spending as well.

And the ripples will likely continue. The businesses in town – restaurants and small shops for example – start to see a drop off in traffic through their doors. In an effort to protect themselves from the downward spiral, employers start to let people go in anticipation of the worst. The future of the town starts down a paranoid path where everyone becomes cautious and afraid and that continues to feed the sense that their town will become a ghost town before too long. But it doesn’t have to. What if businesses in manufacturing communities made a choice to look at things differently?

If manufacturing towns want to take control of their own destinies and not fall prey to the all-too-common self-fulfilling prophecies in the news, there are choices business owners can make and actions they can take to protect their businesses from falling victim to the economic paranoia and caution people in the town are most likely feeling.

Tough times don’t last forever

Hard times come, but they don’t last forever. When the economy turns and a new company comes into town to fill the empty manufacturing space, impacted employees find new opportunities, and people start to realize that the sky is not falling, one thing everyone will remember is how certain businesses treated them when times were tough. While I’m not suggesting that businesses need to give away their goods and services, they can do a lot to build goodwill in the community during tough times. And that goodwill often begins with their own employees.

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Customers and members of the community will remember with fondness and brand loyalty the businesses that seemed to go out of their way to treat people with respect, dignity, and caring during tough times. Providing great customer service and creating a space where everyone who walks in the door feels valued and respected begins with great employee communication and engagement.

Increase your odds of success

Recognize that your workers are going to be reacting to the negative news in much the same way as your customers. There will be a tendency for your employees to feel uneasy and worried about the future of their jobs, especially if they are witnessing first hand a loss of customers. Begin the cycle of respect and caring by having open conversations with your own employees. Here’s an outline of how those conversations might go:

  • Acknowledge the news and that tough times are ahead
  • Don’t make promises about job security
  • Encourage a team mentality to keep the business solvent and everyone employed
  • Communicate hope and a can-do spirit – all is not lost – there are steps we can take
  • Remind employees that we all have a choice in respect to how we behave and how we treat others
  • Challenge your employees to make a positive difference in every customer’s day
    • Greet every customer
    • Show respect and courtesy
    • Be patient
    • Offer to help
    • Show interest

    When you and your employees take the time to make someone’s day a little bit easier, versus being paranoid and withdrawn, the ripple effects start to move in another direction. The momentum of negativity and paranoia can be reversed. The bottom line is that each of us has a choice to make and while we can’t put our heads in the sand, it’s up to each person to decide to either step forward or remain stuck. While the predictions are dire, it’s not a foregone conclusion that every business will have to cut back and that the town will wither and die.

    And if you must let employees go

    Of course, there is always a possibility that you may have to, at least temporarily, let employees go. Hopefully, this decision is made after every effort has been made to cut costs and increase business in other ways. Whether in an economic boom or bust, every business should have a plan for the worst of times. If you don’t already have a plan in place, now is a good time to understand all the local and national laws and requirements for employers and create a plan for the best practices and procedures around a layoff. If you don’t know where to start, an outplacement firm may be able to help. Proper guidance and support can make all the difference when planning for challenging times.

    Related content: Debunking SMB Outplacement Myths

    As you plan, keep your focus on the people whom you employ. Remember they are not simply a notation on your bottom line. These are flesh-and-blood beings and, like yourself, they have families, dreams, aspirations, and obligations. Your first priority should be to treat them with dignity, respect, and caring.

    Life will go on and your employees may not remember the specific business reason they were laid off, but they will remember how they were treated. Your future success depends on them remembering your courtesy and support. That will shape your legacy as a leader and as a person. What will your choice be?

17 January 2019

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