Is Grumbling Your First Response To Cutbacks?

by  Leigh Steere  |  Self Leadership
Is Grumbling Your First Response To Cutbacks?

If senior management cuts your budget, says no to replacing broken equipment, or reduces your headcount, what is the first feeling that wells up inside you? Irritation? Anger? Panic? A sense of unfairness? Probably not gratitude.

A situation on the home front recently triggered my thinking on this topic. When I opened my refrigerator a few weeks ago, the typical chill was absent.

The milk had curdled. The freezer smelled like dead fish. Melted ice cream dripped through the shelves, and previously frozen bread dough had started to rise, exploding out of its packaging.

A few choice expletives fleeted through my mind as I surveyed the mess. I was not mumbling in gratitude as I tossed over a hundred dollars of ruined food into the garbage and wiped sticky goop from the freezer drawer. And I was not brimming with excitement when I learned that we either needed to remodel the kitchen or wait a month for a special-order fridge to fit our current space.

In the ensuing days, however, frustration gave way to resignation and eventually to acceptance and a desire to explore the experience. In hindsight, I found myself wishing that my initial reaction to our dead refrigerator had been a sense of adventure, not dread.

Next time you face a workplace cutback, consider these four points:

1. Adversity Is A Team-Building Opportunity – After discovering that we would be waiting a month for a permanent solution, our family members had a brainstorming session. What could we adjust on a day-to-day basis to meet our food storage needs?

2. Adversity Offers A Chance To Get Creative – I once read that creativity is a product of boundaries and constraints, not unlimited budgets and freedoms. Our kids would have been pleased with three restaurant meals a day, but we decided to look only at options that would cost the same as or less than what we typically pay for food in a month.

3. Take Time To Examine & Reflect – I’m perpetually curious. The lack of refrigerator led me to wonder, “How many people in the world actually have mechanical refrigeration?” According to recent estimates, somewhere between 97.8 and 99 percent of U.S. households have a fridge, including most impoverished families. It’s something we think of as a necessity.

In contrast, it’s an aspirational purchase in India. According to India’s most recent census data (2011), only 11.04 percent of rural households have a refrigerator. In some areas, electricity is spotty, meaning there isn’t always power to run appliances.

I was also fascinated to find a small but growing number of people in the U.S. who are voluntarily giving up refrigerators to reduce their carbon footprints and live a greener lifestyle.

I ended up exploring a number of topics I hadn’t previously considered – what U.S. poverty really looks like; the differences in market penetration for various types of technology (not just refrigerators); the carbon footprint aspects of the technologies we use; and new ways to think about food purchasing and preparation.

In the end, we discovered a refrigerator is a nice-to-have item, not an essential.

4. Adversity Presents An Occasion To Rethink Assumptions & Priorities – You can resist change and expend energy complaining about it or trying to maintain the status quo. Or you can flow with a change and use it as a chance for experimentation and evaluating how you do things.

During our time without a fridge, I went to the store at 6 a.m. each day to purchase ice and only the groceries needed for that day. Living just fine with what fits in a camping cooler, we realized we don’t need six different salad dressings and 10 cooking sauces. Previously, we had assumed our bulk shopping was more economical and convenient than once-a-day trips to the supermarket, but we discovered this wasn’t true for our family. We spent much less on groceries by purchasing a small amount each day and had far less food waste.

A Cutback Is A Change

Change shakes things up and forces you to revisit your habits, and that’s a good outcome. So, before you balk at a resource reduction and before you petition to keep the status quo, step back and consider what you might learn from the changed circumstances. You may discover a new and better way of doing business.

What silver linings have you discovered in a workplace cutback?

About The Author

Articles By leigh-steere
Leigh Steere is a researcher, product developer, and adviser in the field of people management. She writes on fostering creativity, employee engagement, and high performance in the workplace. Visit http://www.managingpeoplebetter.com/mpb/index.html for a free assessment of your management style and tips for managing more effectively.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mary C. Schaefer  |  23 Oct 2015  |  Reply

Leigh, I could not imagine how you were going to convince me to look at cutbacks differently, but indeed you did!

What a GREAT use of a personal story to make a point. You made me think about how I can choose to think about just-about-any challenge differently.

Thank you for sharing your story. Great job and great read.

Christophe Grouard  |  23 Oct 2015  |  Reply

Dear Leigh,
Grumbling as a first response appears to me quite normal as it is an emotional response. The issue would be when one sticks on that first response without engaging the intellectual one. I like a lot your personal story to illustrate your point. Allow me to use your own story to illustrate my point and let’s imagine that, in addition to your fridge problem, you had to deal with two, three or four change situations on a short period of time, in a personal or in a professional context. The emotional burden will be much more significant and it will be much more difficult to stop grumbling and in the end to engage the intellectual response with, preferably, a positive attitude. Thank you for sharing. Best regards.

John E. Smith  |  23 Oct 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Leigh:)

Well, I got past your extremely graphic description of rotting food and am darned glad I did:) The message in this entertaining post is pure gold.

I was reminded of a time when an organization experienced significant financial issues, eventually going into bankruptcy. I was responsible at that time for the management development, organization development, and training functions, so I had a healthy budget.

This was a few years ago, so the major components almost always involved large amounts of money for hotel ballroom meeting space, food services, hotel rooms, and other costs related to bringing folks together for periods of time from one day to one week or more, from different parts of the country. Depending on the division of the organization, transportation costs were either a facility or my responsibility.

When things deteriorated, we were “encouraged” and then directed to cut costs. Two things stand out for me in this:

1) I was and continue to be very oriented toward supporting the larger picture, so I followed directions and even occasionally exceeded the request to reduce costs and eliminate items from the budget which I controlled.

This made me feel very affiliated with the organization, since I was sacrificing some things I felt strongly about and enjoyed doing for the greater good.

This also aggravated the snot out of me, as I observed others who made different choices and insisted on protecting their slices of the pie.

The psychological dynamics and resulting emotions are important as we consider how we respond to a crisis.

2) The cost-cutting, while painful and only partially effective at reducing our overall problems, did result in my focusing on alternative ways to provide development and training to the groups with which I worked. This resulted in our organization becoming much more oriented toward online training and meeting before these became ubiquitous in the workplace.

The silver lining in facing this situation had several threads:

1) Money saved for the organization through reduction of expensive employee development strategies.

2) More effective and less disruptive, but newer ways of developing employees employed.

3) My personal skill set exploded past stand-up facilitation of training and meetings to include becoming comfortable navigating the online environment, in advance of many others in my profession.

Thanks for a very interesting and thought-provoking post:)


Jane Anderson  |  26 Oct 2015  |  Reply

Great example of how changing your attitude transforms perspective and while the circumstances don’t change, the potential to make things better instead of bitter is there. What if you treated cutbacks as a sense of adventure, not dread? Sounds like an opportunity to me.

Vatsala Shukla  |  30 Oct 2015  |  Reply

First things first, sorry about your fridge, Leigh. I had something similar happen in my apartment when a bunch of nasty termites got in through the apartment below mine and ruined my kitchen cupboards that housed my bone china set!

I think panic and shock was my first reaction after which I got into action and with the help of my parents to boost my morale, took active steps to refurbish and mercifully, the downstairs neighbor included my apartment in his bill for removing termites. Those awful termites have not dared to revisit since 2001.

I remember that Census, Leigh, and I also remember growling at the poor Census taker about questions related to caste because I felt that it was not relevant. In any case, the census did show that more development was required for rural areas and the anomalies were consistent between the richer and poorer states of India. The picture painted for rural India which is a major vote bank was grim although for the first time paperless census conducted on hand-held electronic devices by the then government.

Coming back to grumbling, I remember during my Article days in London coming into the office one morning to discover that the floor’s open spaces had been covered with cubicles allocated to specific employees while the rest of us had to sit in a small area. There was a lot of grumbling and insecurity but this was the first sign that the employer was planning cutbacks due to economic conditions. Not a savvy way to get the message across, I may add.

Those of us who were quick to pick up the message moved on to other jobs and got on with our careers and I guess the silver lining was that those who stayed got a chance to retain their jobs until they could make the move and the employer was saved making redundancy checks in thousands.

Join The Conversation