When do you know your workplace is in trouble?
Sadly, many times that realization comes too late. Employees are told the company is closing, they are being let go, their co-workers are let go, their hours are reduced or they will be forced to relocate if they want to remain with the company.
The downward spiral for organizations begins before it becomes blatantly obvious. There are signs, but they are easy to ignore. Sadly, the communication to the workforce is less than straightforward. Why? Perhaps top leaders are hoping to reverse the trend. In some cases, if the workforce and customer base became aware of the troubles, they would leave, putting the company in even worse shape.
Neither reason makes the affected employee feel any better.
There are times when the signs of problems are present, but the employee’s defense mechanisms keep them in denial.
Personal troubles have similar parallels. Years ago, a good friend called me crying, for his wife had informed him she had taken steps to start divorce proceedings. As days and weeks went by, my friend shared more about the situation, and it was quite evident there were warning signs. Some had been there for a while.
Why do we miss these? We are human beings. We often just don’t want to believe reality even when signs are evident.
A person called me wondering if I could help him find work recently. He had just left a place that abruptly shut down. He was shaken. He is a single father and needs a job with health insurance. To make matters worse, he had been selling his previous company’s services in the hours and days before the announcement and was upset that the owner had not told him what was going to take place.
He felt the owner knew it, but still had him out selling something that never had a chance to be provided.
Another person called me asking to let him know if I heard of any jobs because his company had missed payroll the last three pay periods. When he asked the owner for an explanation, he did not get one. (This, obviously, is the king of warning signs).
Another top leader called to let me know some local jobs were being relocated to another city. How many, and if the employees here would relocate, was still up in the air.
A leader of a company shared that due to canceled contracts and lagging sales, there would be a downsizing next month. Because of his role in the company, he is aware of the downsizing. However many employees were not.
Here are things to look for with an organization that may be in trouble:
— Isolation. Top leaders isolate a bit more and communication is reduced.
— Vendor payments are slowed down or stopped. This usually means that to make payroll, vendors are left waiting for money owed them.
— Vendors become more inflexible. Vendors will not ship or deliver product without payment first.
— Work delays. Projects are delayed or cancelled.
— An exodus from integral staff. Top performers, particularly those most likely in the know, leave for other jobs.
— A leadership exodus. The most senior leaders announce early departures.
— Uncommon expense cuts. Things like training and travel are curtailed.
— Tools become hard to find. Gradually supplies to complete the job are not available.
— Frozen growth. Replacement positions and new hires are frozen.
— No paycheck. Payroll is late or missed.
No company or organization is immune to bad times. The sooner the realities of the situation are shared, the better for the company and the workforce. It is character vs. comfort time.