Blog: Maintaining employee morale during an economic downturn

Employee Engagement

Maintaining employee morale during an economic downturn

Developing a thoughtful internal communication strategy and empowering managers to better connect with their teams, are some of the many ways in which leaders can maintain employee morale during a global health crisis.
Maintaining employee morale during an economic downturn

During times of uncertainty, employees look to their leaders for security and guidance as they navigate the new normal. I’ve had the opportunity to lead various companies through times of uncertainty throughout my career and I know one thing for sure: maintaining employee morale is critical to weathering the storm and coming out stronger on the other end. Between a global health crisis, an economic downturn, workforce reductions, remote work, and shifting job responsibilities, this is no easy task.

Here are four ways to maintain employee morale now when it matters more than ever:

Develop a thoughtful internal communication strategy

Before your senior team jumps into problem-solving mode, the first order of business is to develop a thoughtful internal messaging plan. According to a recent guide, companies that do this can swiftly address employee fear and anxiety despite a rapidly changing environment. Set up weekly all-company meetings and encourage your people to ask you tough questions ahead of time. We’re fully-remote right now so we do this online with a Q&A feature so we can answer questions in real-time. Maintaining a high degree of transparency has really helped us in terms of maintaining morale—even through big organizational change. I can’t tell you how many employees have reached out to me and my business partner Daniel to say how much they’ve appreciated our honesty throughout the crisis. 

Maintaining frequent, candid communication also fosters trust—and having trust in the organization’s senior leaders is a top driver of engagement.

Empower managers to better connect with their teams

In times of crisis, the manager role becomes even more important. Managers that cultivate a psychologically safe environment will find their direct reports are much more likely to ask questions and communicate fears and concerns. 

A manager’s ability to connect with their team is especially important during periods of remote work—yet remote management is challenging for many leaders. It’s easy to manage people who are like you, it’s intuitive. But what if you’re an introvert managing an extravert? Telework might be right up your alley, but it’s particularly difficult for highly extraverted folks. You’ll want to check in with them more often than usual. Obviously, this is a basic example; relationships get more complex when you factor in different workplace behavioral styles. How does John respond to change? How does Jessica react under pressure? I urge senior leaders to arm their managers with tools that help them understand how their direct reports are wired to think and work—so they can successfully lead even during the most trying times. 

Measure and act on employee engagement data 

There’s never been a better time to administer an employee engagement survey. Not only can it help you understand employee needs, but it also shows them you care about how they’re doing and feeling. Surveys can identify where trust and culture have potentially eroded within the company. Some surveys gather engagement data at the company-wide level and across teams so you can pinpoint teams that are feeling the most stress. If your business has gone remote, collect employee feedback every three months to stay on top of any issues.

Protect and adapt your company culture

Financial hardship will change your culture. As you cut down on discretionary spending and shore up resources, many company perks—like paid lunches and outings—will have to be cut. Despite its reduced presence, culture still has a critical role to play in fostering the morale of your people. Your culture is what employees look to for stability and a shared sense of community. In order to protect your company’s culture, make sure to reinforce and reward behaviors aligned with your mission. We actually just promoted an employee who has been working toward promotion for months. Some might say it’s an odd time to do this, but it’s so important to show your people that even in a downturn, there’s a career path and a future here for you. 

During a crisis, your culture will likely need to adapt somewhat based on your revised business strategy. Recognize and reward behaviors that correlate to business success during the downturn. Be candid about why you’re doing so and how it’ll help the business. You should also take care to highlight core behaviors that will never change, even as your strategy shifts.

Guiding your business toward success

Running a company during a downturn or a global crisis is an immense challenge that will test character and skills. Leaders that ensure employees feel supported and empowered throughout times of uncertainty will ultimately help the business build an even stronger foundation. By following a plan, remaining transparent, and being flexible, leaders will find their employees more engaged and their business will be poised for success.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Life @ Work, Employee Relations, #CXtoEX, #GuestArticle

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