Honesty Can Turn Fearful Employees Into Well-Informed Allies

Dear Debra: I run a small business with thirteen employees.
I’m worried about the possibility of having to do layoffs, of not having enough business coming in to make payroll.  I’m not there yet, but I’m scared.  Everyone here is like family.  Except they’re not, because at the end of the day, it’s about business and staying afloat.  But I care.  And of course they too are terrified about their own security.  I don’t know what or how much to tell them.  I need my employees to keep going, but what do I say when they ask me for assurances that they’ll have a job next week, next month, or next year?  –Unsteady at the helm

Dear Unsteady at the helm: You have a moral imperative to be honest with your employees, even if doing so impels them to jump ship for a more secure position.

Sometimes being a leader requires you to be brutally honest and to spell out to your team, to your investors, information that is painful to hear.  Too many so-called leaders, desperate to buy time or to delude themselves about what is really going down in their business sugar coat the truth.  Or they out and out lie-to themselves, to their employees, to their backers.  Which approach is better?  These days, we all know the answer to that question.

You may have to say: "I don't know what's going to happen.  I don't know how I'll be able to make payroll three months down the road if the bottom falls out of the economy.  But I'm working like the dickens to figure it out.  I'm not sleeping well, I know you're not, but I'm fighting.  I hope and pray that I'll be able to do right by you and by this business.  Whatever happens, I promise to be honest with you along the way and to keep you informed."

They'll do what they have to do, but they'll make their decisions with the confidence that their boss is providing unvarnished facts.  In this economic climate, being a straight shooter garners respect.  This approach may even end up supercharging your employees' loyalty.  They just might hang in there and fight the big fight with you precisely because you've demonstrated your commitment to serving them hard truths straight up.

As a leader, keeping your integrity intact during periods of upheaval will anchor you.  Let transparency guide everyone involved.  You'll sleep better at night; so will your team.

And remember: We’re all in this together.

For more advice and to read inspiring stories from 500 women who've also been through volatile times, I hope you'll read my book, Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word.


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