Managers everywhere are faced with the realities of supporting their teams in extraordinarily challenging circumstances. Every single day, they’re privy to the life moments — personal and professional — that can bring people to their knees. A shared global challenge we can all relate to is an economic downturn. While every person has their own stories of hardship, as a collective we understand the pressure, stress, instability, and, for some people, even despair we each feel in the face of financial uncertainty. We need only mention historic events such as the Great Depression and Global Financial Crisis and any group of people remembers how quickly an economic downturn can become a collapse and a tragedy for whole communities.
The unique pressures of an economic downturn
When the pandemic began, economists and financial experts quickly flagged that somewhere down the line the bill for Covid-19 would be paid. From inflationary events and economic shutdowns to money lending and money printing, the trickle-down was a ticking time bomb. And now, many of the world’s economies are in recessionand seeing consecutive quarters of negative growth.
It can be argued that few settings make an economic downturn feel more stressful than the workplace. After all, people go to their job for the personal and financial reward. When there is a precariousness to the economy, everything feels volatile and we can’t help but worry when we’ll feel the full weight of this and whether it might even suffocate us entirely. In terms of patterns, it’s also logical that if an organization is already taking steps to conserve outgoings, it’s yet another heaviness employees might feel. They can’t help but think about the ‘what if’ of an economic downturn and if it might spell disaster for them and their loved ones.
The responsibilities of and options available to managers
The role of managers is always to find ways to help, lead, guide, and support their teams. When managers and their teams are thriving, the pay-offs are numerous and go far beyond strategic and financial objectives. In a time of economic uncertainty it can feel near impossible to succeed in any area. The data is clear: stressed people rarely do great work; in fact, a recent U.S. study found that 43 percent of desk workers surveyed reported feeling burnt out, while global burnout rates rose to 40 percent between May 2022 and October 2022.
It makes sense and yet, it also raises the question: what can be done in a workplace to support staff in the inevitable face of an economic downturn? In this article, we’ll review five strategies that are designed to help managers focus on their team with complementary tactics covering the following key areas:
- Pressure reduction
- Resource sharing
Strategy One: Facilitating open communication
The success of all businesses lies in the quality of communication. In a time of crisis, whether it is specifically related to the workplace or not, attention paid to communication is make or break. The backbone of any communication policy should be open discourse that is modelled from upper management down to every single team member, no matter their role. If the workplace is going through formal changes due to financial pressures, transparent communication can crucially influence morale, the organization’s reputation, stakeholder confidence, and long-term staff retention. A key strategy for transparent communication and facilitating openness is to establish clear, two-way channels for conversation. These channels can serve to emphasize that communication is expected no matter what, that all team members have agency, that managers are open and available, and they also nurture a culture of trust in the organization. With a framework of proven, reliable communication, managers can always demonstrate effective, respectful communication. Some simple yet impactful practices include policies of email check-ins, face-to-face meetings, and time-based updates. In the event the worst-case scenario plays out, communication will steer the ship of the organization and any crises can actually be managed.
Strategy Two: Look for incentives
A common tactic to deliver value when there are limited resources is to find incentives that have dynamic value. In a time of stress and uncertainty, managers should look for what can uniquely incentivize their team. Beyond the obvious quantitative incentive of salary and greater financial rewards, are there any opportunities to deliver qualitative value that can improve the life of team members? One key takeaway of the pandemic was that remote work gave some people back things they missed due to long office hours, commutes, and travel for work. Managers could revisit this kind of policy to help with tackling economic pressures. For example, allowing employees to manage their own schedules and the option to condense their work week — with advance notice — could give them greater work life balance. This might look like more vacation days by working five days in four so then they take a trip away and perhaps travel on a cheaper day of the week. A strategy like this ensures people know that enjoying life is still important even when expenses are high and their manager carers about them having quality personal time. Another option could be to review an adjustment to the company’s working day ‘hours’. Commuters could then travel in off-peak to spend less on public transport or fuel and even opt to structure their work at home into off-peak energy periods for running equipment and heating. Taking an empathetic approach like this requires significant discourse and trust from management yet the qualitative upsides endure in the minds of team members.
Strategy Three: Assess options that reduce financial pressure on staff
Pressure of any kind is overwhelming — even if it’s just heavy traffic on a usually quiet street. Financial pressure takes its toll so if managers can relieve even a small amount of this for their teams everyone can have resilience in a hard time. If an organization has means to shoulder some financial burdens then it’s worth investigating and implementing. In certain scenarios, managers may be able to incorporate certain low-level organizational expenses as a tax write-off. This could look like a company-catered weekly or fortnightly lunch, to save team members some money, as well as providing work-appropriate beverages and snacks for everyone day-to-day. These small costs could be a show of goodwill that provides relief. Another option could be to revise the company dress code so staff don’t feel like they need to wear expensive clothing if they don’t have to. After two years of work from home, a more relaxed yet still smart clothing expectation is more attainable and could even help to eliminate dry-cleaning bills. Managers could also look to solutions that help relieve financial pressure after-hours, too. Simply surveying team members and establishing the most common streaming or audio services could then result in the company purchasing ‘family’ or ‘business’ log-ins so that people don’t have this monthly expense but can still enjoy their preferred platforms. Finally, as the holiday season approaches, opt for a company gift with financial benefits like gift cards or a coupon book — there are even digital options available for this now that are sustainable and can be carried conveniently as a smartphone app.
Strategy Four: Share cost-saving resources
Incorporating services and items in the workplace that can be shared or utilized is a positive step managers that promotes a team working together through a tough time. A starting point could be booking free financial advice and tax education sessions in the workplace so employees know what expenses they can claim back. On a daily level, and in line with with safety policies, managers could dedicate a physical space at the office for working out so employees don’t have to pay for the gym and the health of the team is promoted in group workouts, too. Creating a green space onsite that grows herbs is a way to enhance a workplace and everyone can take home clippings for meals while enjoying the presence of plants. Finally, setting up a message board that highlights discounts, offers or annual subscription deals normalizes a knowledge sharing economy so that employees can save money where possible in a group effort that doesn’t single anyone out.
Strategy Five: Encourage flexibility for employee gain
Managers can also encourage a model of work flexibility that dynamically engages all team members. If employees find that stress is interfering with their focus, managers can use their communication policies to design and implement solutions that are about value for everyone. A flexible workplace with hybrid working means staff know they’re trusted and they can plan their work days in line with their own strengths. A refreshing step of normal processes like walking meetings could shake up existing operations wherein the team steps outside for their physical and mental health without their work day getting any longer. Managers might also allocate weekly training time that keeps staff skilled. Working one-on-one to identify goals for each team member, managers could: implement a formal training module to keep things fresh, allocate self-education periods in the workday, schedule regular training sessions with experts, or pre-determine a company-wide afternoon a week for self-directed professional development tasks. The number one goal is to show team members that they’re being invested in and that their managers recognize they are more engaged when they pursue multifaceted skill-development as feeling joy at work is particularly difficult in this climate. Treating every person with individual consideration is a part of respectfully working with purpose no matter what’s happening at work.
A final note for managers looking to support their teams during an economic downturn
It is worthwhile to note that every organization is different and certain strategies outlined above may not be wholly suitable for implementation. These points are still designed to be attainable and customized depending on needs, policies, and industry. A final option could be discussing the pressure of economic downturn and using the general themes of the strategies as a launchpad for action. More than any other, the strategy of communication is fundamental to managers staying connected with their teams, so take the time for conversation and start devising solutions together from there.
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