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Fear of the Unknown and Employee Engagement

Amanda Sollman

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This post is the first in a series about Tony Robbins' 6 Human Needs. The concept of the 6 Human Needs is one of our "4 Cornerstones" and is taught in every training+coaching program, including The Thriving Leader, Millennial Mastermind and Agribusiness Relationship Mastery Experience. You can learn more about those programs here.

Across the agribusiness landscape – where we do the most work – we're seeing massive numbers of mergers and acquisitions. Large cooperatives are merging with smaller cooperatives. Manufacturers are acquiring other manufacturers. Certain companies are swapping pieces of business with other companies for mutual growth opportunities. It seems like there's regular breaking news about somebody buying somebody else.

Then add to that the fact that the markets (in particular, for certain crops and the dairy market) aren't great and farmers are having to think long and hard about their investments – which means that just because you had the sale last year, it doesn't mean you'll have the sale this year.

There is A LOT of uncertainty in agribusiness right now.

And that can have a big impact on employee engagement.

certainty as a basic human need

Renowned personal development expert Tony Robbins writes about six human needs that – after reliable access to food, water, warmth and rest – are critical if we are to feel a sense of personal fulfillment and accomplishment. Those needs include:

  1. Certainty
  2. Variety
  3. Significance
  4. Love and Connection
  5. Growth
  6. Contribution

Over the next six weeks, I'll be breaking each of these six needs down and diving into how you can apply these concepts to the business world.

Up first: Certainty

Robbins describes Certainty as "the need for security, stability and reliability." Are you confident about what tomorrow will look like or are you always wondering where the next dollar, the next meal, the next interaction with other people is going to come from? If you're fairly certain about what the future holds, you can take calculated risks, pursue opportunities or look for ways to challenge yourself. If you're uncertain about what comes next, though, you're more likely to play it safe and hold on to what you've got. 

certainty and employee engagement

Think back to the examples I shared at the beginning...

Imagine if you worked for one of those companies that was merging with someone else – how do you know if you'll still have your job in the next 12-18 months? Do you trust management when they say your position is safe? If you're at risk of losing your job, why put in too much extra effort?

In regards to the markets, if farmers aren't buying new equipment or as many inputs as they have in previous years, how do you know that the cooperative you work for won't have to downsize to account for the reduced revenue?

Certainty in the business world shows up as knowing that your job will still be there tomorrow, that your company will take care of you if things go south and that employees can count on leadership to do what they say.

Employees who are uncertain about their future with your organization are likely to disengage from the work, either because they don't want to become too invested in something that isn't a sure thing or they don't see the point of working too hard for something that will be gone in a few months anyways.

Helping Employees feel more certainty

If you're experiencing employee disengagement from a lack of certainty, here are a few things to consider:

  1. If your company is going through a big shake-up (merger, acquisition), be as transparent as possible about what you expect the future to hold. Obviously there are some legal restrictions on what you can/can't say in these situations, but be as open as possible. Will there be layoffs? Role reassignments? A downsizing of staff? Relocation of a main office? Share as much information as you're allowed to in order to reduce employee fear of the unknown.

  2. Share your company/organization vision with your employees and show them how their role fits into that vision. Assure them that they are an important part of the organization's future and paint a picture of what that will look like.

  3. Be open about your philosophy on staffing capacity. I used to work in an industry that was known for staffing based on current client load – if you had a lot of clients, you hired. If a client left (and it happened fairly frequently since clients moved around a lot), you laid people off. I worked with people who had been laid off multiple times at other companies, not because of anything they did, but just because there wasn't enough work for them. At the company I worked for, though, the owner was very open about the fact that he would do everything in his power to reassign you or work you at less than capacity – just for a short while until new client accounts came on – to avoid layoffs if at all possible. I always found that very comforting and it created a level of certainty I might not have had at a similar company.

  4. Deliver on your promises. Do what you say you're going to do. Simple as that.

  5. Have frequent conversations about your employees' future. What is their career path within your organization? What are the opportunities available? Is advancement realistic or do they have to wait for someone to leave or retire before something opens up? Don't let them fall into the trap of feeling like they're in a "dead-end job."

Increasing employee certainty – and, by extension, their engagement with their work – is fully dependent on reducing the unknowns and answering their questions to the fullest extent you're able to. If you can create certainty in an ever-changing world, your employees will thank you for it.

Have other suggestions for how to do that? Leave them in the comments!

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