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Address these challenges internally and then explore how you can use what you've learned in a way that also helps your customers.










The Innovative Workplace

Meeting today's workplace challenges head-on

This isn't your father's office environment

By Don Phin

Recently one of our broker partners asked me what I see as the biggest challenges today's leaders face. Here's my response—and some action plans.

Challenge #1: Keeping stressed people motivated: The disengaged. The walking dead. Or worse, saboteurs.

These days, we're all trying to do more with less. And it's wearing us out. In survey after survey, the results indicate a growing number of disengaged, dispirited and otherwise demotivated employees. Because we can't simply say, "Okay, I'll get you more help and give you a raise," what can we do?

Some suggestions:

Don't pretend the stress isn't there. Acknowledge the situation. Talk about it. Get your employees engaged in creating solutions. You don't want to figure it all out yourself—and you don't have to.

Stop doing unproductive tasks. Outsource them, delegate them or eliminate them altogether. If you do make a new hire, let the first one be an entry-level employee who can pick up the low-value grunt work.

Teach time management. Few employees have ever received time management training, and very few actually manage their time well.

Create high-touch experiences that show employees you care. Take them to lunch or write them a thank-you note. Even better, let them take an afternoon off so they can have some time for themselves.

Do something fun to break up the monotony. We have to balance out all the negativity with positivity! If you're interested, send an email to me at and I'll send you a document on how to create a fun workplace.

Challenge #2: Keeping up with constant change.

In today's business world, there is no comfort zone. As the late architect, inventor, poet and philosopher Buckminster Fuller once observed, we live in a time of accelerating acceleration.

When discussing change with employers, I explain that employees respond to change in one of three ways and that each must be approached differently.

The Resisters. These folks are deathly afraid of change. Why? Because they are afraid they will be "found out." Maybe they are not as productive or valuable as management thinks they are. They will not only resist but actually may sabotage change efforts. The answer is to address their fears directly so they don't play the victim or try to thwart change. Give them an opportunity to constructively talk about their concerns. Those who continue to resist must be let off the bus.

The Sheep. These employees will follow you anywhere. The problem is that they tend to approach change on only one foot. If you want them to put both feet, in you have to make their world bigger. Help them understand how the change makes a difference not just for them but also for the customers you serve. Show them how they can make more of a difference under the new regime.

The Champions. These are the people who asked for or even pioneered the change. The challenge is to keep them engaged without losing sight of the job that still needs to be done. Give them the credit they deserve for championing change and keep them involved as change agents.

Challenge #3: Preparing for a flat or down economy.

The word here is preparation. What actions are you prepared to take if the economy tanks further? What if the only way to grow is by grabbing market share or creating a new market?

Have you prepared for a 20% drop in revenue?

Create pro formas that will help you understand exactly what you would have to do in such a case.

If you had to drastically cut costs or personnel, what or who goes first?

Save for a rainy day

Open up the books so employees can see the reality of the situation, and encourage them to contribute any ideas they have that can save jobs.

Consider adding a new line of business that can bring in additional revenue. How can you service the two strongest growth sectors of our economy: health care and technology?

Knowing you have a plan for the worst-case scenario is good risk management, and it provides peace of mind for you and your customers.

Challenge #4: How do you manage older workers and younger workers? Are the former worth it, and are the latter skilled enough?

We've recently had some excellent Webinar guests on this subject. Here are some observations and suggestions:

Be clear about the distinction between experience and productivity. Some people have simply done the same job the same way for years without improvement. In that case, longevity is not an asset. These employees will be the most resistant to change.

Encourage experienced workers to act as mentors for younger workers. Let younger workers help older employees become more tech savvy.

Realize that "one size fits all" motivation doesn't work. Tailor motivational efforts to each employee's values and needs. For example, the Generation Y generation is much more interested in career growth opportunities than in your 401(k) plan.

Test each employee's skills. Don't assume you know what they are. Employees can't control the system in which they find themselves. All they can control is their skills and attitude.

In the end, it's results that matter most. How would an employee of any age know he or she is doing their job up to standard? What benchmarks are available to support these performance standards?

Like a good coach, place people into positions based on their unique abilities, not on the basis of job descriptions.

Learn and share

The four challenges I've described above are the key issues that leaders confront in today's economy. You can start by addressing these challenges internally and then explore how you can use what you've learned in a way that also helps your customers.

The author

Don Phin is president of the Employer Advisors Network, Inc., and author of the "HR That Works" series of compliance and management products. He is the editor of "Employment Practices Liability Consultant" (EPLiC) published by IRMI. He can be contacted at or at




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