Author Karen J Hewitt offers her tips for supporting staff during turbulent times

Whether you would wish it or not, all of your employees will be undergoing some kind of change at work. With the inevitable restructuring, accelerated growth or disruption that today’s turbulent times require, your people will be taking a big career risk – either by choice or otherwise. Whether they are returning to work after a maternity or paternity break, moving into a new role, joining a new team or wanting to take a big step up the career ladder, your people will be experiencing unprecedented change.

Change can be unsettling for many, and whether it is their choice or something that business need or strategic direction has imposed upon them, they are sure to be operating outside of their comfort zone, with a resultant shake up of their confidence.

Confidence is rarely discussed in the workplace, but it is no accident that it is discussed regularly in sport, because confidence holds the key to high performance.  When two people have similar skills and abilities, it is confidence – and the way it is applied – that is the ‘difference that makes the difference’.

Confidence is strongly connected to resilience, because it acts like a bottle with liquid in it and whose volume varies on a day-to-day basis. To be able to work through extreme change, with all the pressure that brings, your employees’ confidence bottles need to have a residual confidence that never falls below a minimum level – even when the bottle gets shaken so much that some of the liquid gets thrown out.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • What could you do to make sure your employees’ confidence bottles have that minimum residual volume?
  • What are you going to do to ensure your employees aren’t in a constant state of fear, overwhelm and panic when asked to operate out of their comfort zone – because all three lead to stress, burnout and costly absenteeism?
  • And how are you going to help them to ‘swim up’ – to find their own inner strength and manage those feelings of drowning when the going gets tough?

The answer lies in a real understanding of what confidence is, because confidence is more complex than we know. It’s only really tested when we operate out of our comfort zone, ie in times of change, and needs working on every day.

Confidence has four pillars:

  1. Internal confidence – where you understand and accept yourself, with a whole range of human strengths and flaws. This is important because accepting yourself means you don’t bring your personal baggage into work conversations and are able to handle conflicts with emotional intelligence
  2. External confidence – where you are able to adopt the physiology of a confident person, and project that to others. This is absolutely essential for getting others to believe in you and accept your ideas
  3. Deep confidence – when you are doing work that aligns perfectly with what you are good at, what you love doing and what the organisation (and the world) needs. This brings with it a state of supreme happiness and an air of authenticity
  4. Strategic confidence – when you are able to deal with unexpected situations with calm and resilience, like a tree whose branches may get buffeted by the storm but its roots and trunk remain strong

When we understand these four pillars, we can give our employees the gift of ‘swimming up’, because the more confident they are, the better equipped they will be to swim up and survive emotional turbulence in times of change.

To create an environment of employee confidence – where employees feel truly able to swim up when work (and life) demands it – we need to do three things:

  1. Make a long-term investment in our employees by teaching them how to manage their own confidence, which will boost employee engagement levels in the process
  2. Make confidence a topic of conversation at every team meeting, so that it becomes part of the culture, and a regular boost to employee wellbeing
  3. Create a culture where everyone feels able to speak up and challenge anything they feel uncomfortable about, because challenging constructively is encouraged, welcomed and supported

Employee confidence is the key to employee engagement, wellbeing and creating culture, and swimming up is the mechanism your employees will use to manage their own part in all three.

When we all swim up, and swim in formation, both individual and organisational potential is limitless.

An investment in your employees’ confidence and resilience will have a ripple effect right through your organisation, with the impact felt not just in the workplace, but in your company’s financial results!

What are you waiting for? Pack your metaphorical flippers, snorkel and goggles and get your teams swimming up.

Karen J Hewitt MBA is a culture change specialist and author. Her book, Employee confidence – the new rules of engagement, is shortlisted in this year’s Business Book Awards