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5 Employee Engagement Strategies for an Economic Downturn

October 5, 2022

Kiplinger has reported that the economy is showing one major sign of a recession, with “at least seven other red flags currently waving.” The major sign they point to: two consecutive negative quarters of GDP. But while the debate continues on whether or not we’re really in, or approaching, a recession, most would agree that the economy is in a downturn right now. Prices for many goods and services are rising, and wages continue to soar as employers compete for top talent.

In this tough economy, it’s more important than ever that HR professionals take steps to boost engagement, satisfaction and loyalty among current employees, while building and supporting a culture that will attract new candidates.

Here are five things human resources can focus on to improve the employee experience, even during an economic downturn:

1. Listen to your employees.

Communication in any organization must be ongoing and must offer employees the opportunity to have channels where they can share their input, ideas, and concerns. Gathering feedback about what employees think and feel is vital to maintaining morale and building a strong and supportive culture.

It’s not easy to do, but tools like Connects allow companies to receive anonymous feedback from every employee on their terms, 24/7/365, using Employee Voice. Employers don’t have to — and shouldn’t — gather feedback from employees just once a year. Having a readily accessible and intuitive tool that provides employee feedback and sentiment gives employees a “voice” to be heard and provides your company with timely insights on the health of your organization’s culture.

Of course, just gathering feedback isn’t enough. Organizations must also be prepared to act on what surfaces in the feedback and regularly communicate what they do with the insights they receive. Spotlights in our employee engagement platform Connects provides a great way to share information with your entire workforce — it’s like an internal digital newsletter.

2. Improve your team culture.

Gathering information from employees provides feedback that can help you continuously tune-up your company culture. During what is being called the “Great Resignation,” employees are jumping ship at a dizzying rate as they seek better opportunities — and a better culture — elsewhere.

What can you do to improve your culture? A number of things.

  • Commit to addressing toxic culture directly and promptly. This includes dealing with ways that leadership and management may be contributing to, or fostering, a toxic culture. Remember, the behavior you allow to continue, will become part of your culture.
  • Strongly encourage executives to lead with empathy. This style has been identified by DDI as a best practice and the single greatest leadership skill managers can possess.
  • Communicate transparently. Share what’s happening with your company, its vision and its future — the “bad” along with the good. That kind of transparency builds trust. Connects Spotlights provides an easy vehicle to distribute information company-wide.
  • Provide ample opportunities for employees to learn and grow. LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report identifies opportunities to learn and grow as the number one driver of a great workplace culture. Note that in 2019 it ranked ninth — clearly there have been some significant shifts taking place here that need to be paid attention to.
  • Uphold your company values. Values aren’t meaningful unless they’re real. Employees want something to rally around, to uphold, and to provide them with purpose. Strong values that align with employees’ own values can be an extremely powerful way to weather any storm — including an economic downturn.

Remember that these activities need to be continually managed, measured, and adjusted to address environmental shifts both internally and externally.

3. Recognize employees for a job well done.

A little recognition can go a long way. When we’re all heads down and busy working, we can become so busy that we fail to take care of ourselves and others — both personally and professionally. HR professionals and leadership need to be aware of this and to recognize that employees matter, always.

It’s important to call employees out with words of encouragement and offer recognition for a job well done. This meaningful support can help engage individual employees and boost morale for everyone, creating the positive employee experience that builds a strong team culture.

Providing recognition to employees in memorable ways makes them more loyal and more willing to go the extra mile. They’ll take more ownership and pride in their work and step up to more challenges because of the confidence you’ve placed in them.

Looking for some unique employee recognition ideas? Here are three that you can steal!

4. Offer growth opportunities.

On average, new hire pay is 9% higher than usual right now. That’s because hiring managers are finding it necessary to pay more to get new talent on board. But that can create unrest among employees already on board whose wages may not have kept pace with these increases. When inequities become obvious, employees are likely to jump ship looking for greater — and more equitable — pay elsewhere.

Offering growth opportunities for tenured employees can help to mitigate these impacts. According to Leaders.com, lack of advancement has been cited as the top reason employees decide to leave their jobs. Tired of waiting around for advancement opportunities with their current employers, employees see job-hopping as a quicker way to land higher-level roles.

Take proactive steps before employees get to this point by offering them what they are looking for: challenges and opportunities! Reward them for their initiatives and accomplishments by promoting from within.

5. Digitally connect a disconnected workforce.

A hybrid workforce makes it more important than ever to digitally connect your workforce, so they become a community no matter where they sit. The “Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting” have led to a new prediction suggesting they will spawn the “Great Regret” — the point at which employees begin to second-guess their choices to seek green pastures. Many may find that their moves just took them out of the frying pan and landed them feet first into the fire!

An Airspeed/Workplace Intelligence report, based on input from 800 C-suite leaders and 800 employees indicates that disconnection is driving loneliness and isolation among employees who begin to believe “that their colleagues don’t care about them and that they’re replaceable.”

Keeping employees connected can drive business sustainability and growth. This is especially important for employees working in warehouse-type settings, especially where they may be “digitally detached” during the workday. Helping employees stay connected to their workplace, their team members, and their work drives retention, which is at the top of the strategic priority list for HR professionals.

That’s our list of five things you can start doing during an economic downturn to drive employee engagement up and employee turnover down. Here’s the best tip of all: these five things shouldn’t only be done during an economic downturn: they can — and should — be done all of the time! For more ideas, get our ebook: Best Practices for Employee Engagement and Retention During an Economic Downturn.

Topics: employee engagement, employee experience, leadership, human resources (HR), change management, best practices