Effectively managing employee morale and performance at work is a constant work in progress in normal situations. Add in an economically stressful phase like an extreme recession, and the challenge multiplies in difficulty.
Businesses need solid strategies to sustain morale in uncertain times. In recent months we have experienced political drama, economic turbulence, and rising inflation. A flipping stock market and layoffs in high-profile companies are added to this volatile mixture. Many promising and positive employers have also wound up operations and either left for good or are waiting for things to improve.
This does not imply that there are no jobs around or that business is stopping everywhere. Businesses with the fundamental strength to perform will continue to do well, regardless of the situation. They may not expand as fast or as quickly as they planned, but the growth will be there.
During economic difficulties, employees are usually worried about finances, job security, savings, and managing their daily tasks. If it applies, they may be disappointed about raises and perks being on hold. All these concerns need to be considered (and catered to where possible) to maintain a positive workplace culture where employees can thrive.
The best ways to improve employee morale will depend on the culture, policies for the current situation, and your employees’ individual needs. However, the strategies below can be tweaked to guide you as you look for opportunities to ensure employee satisfaction.
1. Communicate Transparently
I usually stress communicating effectively, but transparency is essential in volatile and uncertain times. Have frequent all-staff meetings to update employees about how the company is doing financially. Explain any changes that may be underway. Don’t hide issues and hope they go unnoticed. Employees always notice!
Many employees fear for their job security during such times. Create a system of asking questions anonymously and try to take time to address the concerns in the questions. If you don’t have a clear answer, say so. If it has not been discussed, ask for time to answer this question.
Knowing they are heard and their concerns addressed where possible improve employee morale. Transparent dealings help build trust, which is key to maintaining employee engagement. Transparency also improves the trust level between employees and their workplaces.
Employees feel comfortable expressing their reservations and may be comfortable offering useful suggestions. This openness allows management to know what their employees need from them and an idea of how to get them to deliver at work,
At the end of the day, even after the economic tough times are hopefully over, a transparent workplace is conducive to happier, more engaged employees and long-term success for the organization.
2. Be empathetic
Between work and home, employees have a lot on their plates during an economic downturn. The past few years have shown us many challenges, and a lot of people are experiencing burnout in one or more facets of their life.
Managers need to be empathetic to these nuances and help employees juggle the projects on their plates. Managers should learn to listen to their employees’ hidden concerns and answer questions honestly. Ideally, managers need to be briefed about recognizing signs of stress in employees who may not feel comfortable bringing up problems independently. Creating a culture of psychological safety is critical and can support employee morale during uncertain times.
Understanding how your employees feel and taking action on their feedback is crucial. Demonstrate your commitment to listening, caring, and making things better. It’s a definite way to improve employee morale when times are tough.
3. Offer consistent, high-quality feedback
Even the most well-meaning managers can return biased performance feedback. Reflect on the wordings used in past performance reviews and look for opportunities to do better.
When employee morale is low, it can be worsened by non-actionable or biased feedback. Opinions about employees’ personalities are not fruitful. Identifying a specific behavioural example and giving clear and actionable feedback for improvement can help employees grow and feel motivated to improve.
4. Focus on team-building activities
Take time to reconnect as a team. Having regular team-building activities helps employees connect with their colleagues. Simple group games that are easy to play in an office setting create a sense of fun and build team spirits. Check out our post 5 Fun Activities at Work to Increase Team Motivation for fun and low-cost ideas.
Make sure that whatever you pick will include all employees’ abilities. You can also poll your employees for suggestions on what kind of activities they would enjoy.
5. Make health and wellness a priority
Stress has a significant effect on employee morale. Encourage your employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance by setting boundaries. Key amongst these is an expectation from managers not to disturb employees on their off hours.
Economic stress is hard, and having thoughtful leadership during challenging times builds the kind of loyalty that retains employees. While these suggestions can’t recession-proof your business, they will help keep your employees engaged, productive, and invested in the company’s success.
As a business manager, checking in with your team regularly is important to ensure needs are being met and issues addressed. It is also important to monitor performance and keep an eye on changes. Low employee engagement frequently leads to poor employee performance. If a manager observes any deterioration in work quality, attention to detail, or other performance-related criteria, it may be an indicator that it’s time to refocus and engage your team.
Sadia Zaheer holds a Masters in Business Administration from IBA, Karachi. After working in several financial institutions in Client Management, Corporate Lending, Islamic Banking and Product Management she jumped careers to pursue a career in writing.
She is a Finance, Business and HR Development writer with four years of experience. She reads a lot and takes care of her multiple cats to remain calm.