Many small businesses chug along for years, growing a little at a time. Their owners get lulled into a kind of complacency. Then one day they start to realize that morale has soured, productivity has declined and the business just isn’t growing as fast as it seems it should.

Such a business, for lack of a better term, has fallen into a funk.

The dictionary defines a “funk” as a low or depressed mood, and that certainly matches the mindset at many small companies these days. Sure, the economy overall has been in recovery mode for years, but many smaller companies still feel a little trapped.

Business owners and employees alike are feeling increasingly overworked, under-appreciated, and skeptical. And despite hopeful talk, they remain anxious, distrustful, and worst of all, disengaged.

So why should it matter how your employees feel, as long as they show up and do their jobs? The answer is productivity.

Research from Gallup estimates that disengaged employees are costing their companies big bucks – as much as one out of every three dollars you spend on payroll. 

Think about what’s happening at your business. Are you throwing away a third of your entire payroll due to simple negativity? And whether that funk has descended on your business recently or has been there all along, you need to face it and change it.  

Here's one explanation of what’s happened lately. For years, small business owners and managers were focused on the numbers, and the numbers were good. So morale was up and everyone was happy. But then the cycle changed and growth slowed or even reversed. And when you're focused on numbers and they're going down – or simply not growing as quickly as you’d like – the mood drops as well and pessimism creeps in. As a result, engagement and performance drop.

Bottom line: That kind of workplace funk could be sapping your cash flow at a time when every penny still counts.

To right the ship, you need to change your leadership focus. The new focus should be on culture. It should be on purpose and morale and loyalty. And all of that boils down to engaged relationships.

Here are three rules to follow:

Rule #1: Positive communication kills negativity: Recovery or no recovery, these are still uncertain times. Employees are always wondering what's going to happen next, whether their jobs will be impacted, and what action to take. That uncertainty creates a void. Unless you fill the void with clear, positive information, people tend to assume the worst. Negativity will dominate everyone’s thoughts and actions.

The number one thing a manager can do during times of uncertainty is to communicate with transparency, authenticity, and clarity. Even when the news is not so positive, you can communicate it positively: Tell the truth, give everyone a plan, and help them believe.

Rule #2: Employees need nourishment to thrive. Most employees just want to know this: Do you care about me; can I trust you? If your answer is yes to both of those questions, your employees will be more likely to become contributors to your success.

Employees who feel cared for and nourished are more engaged in what they're doing and will work to their highest potential.  Learn to view your employees like family. This will change the way you treat them.

Rule #3: Workplace relationships count: Avoid appearing constantly stressed and overworked. Sure, that might be tough sometimes. With projects to complete, to-do lists to accomplish, goals to hit and outcomes to achieve, business owners and managers sometimes throw employees under the bus as they rush toward the next deadline.

When you are especially busy and stressed, the brain goes into survival mode, and we stop thinking about serving other people, mentoring them, and helping them thrive. This is where we drop the ball as business leaders. Just when we need to be the most engaging, we become the least engaging. What our employees need the most, we're delivering the least. And so the problems grow and multiply.

Remember that it's not the numbers that drive people, but people and relationships that drive numbers.

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About the Author(s)

Daniel Kehrer

Daniel Kehrer, Founder & Managing Director of BizBest Media Corp., is a nationally-known, award-winning expert on small and local business, start-ups, content marketing, entrepreneurship and social media, with an MBA from UCLA/Anderson. 

Founder & Managing Director, BizBest
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