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When times are good and your organization is in the black, employee engagement can almost seem like a natural phenomenon. Raises, promotions, and help from new team members all boost morale and contribute to a positive atmosphere. And there’s more funding available for key engagement initiatives, like implementing company-wide recognition programs and employee survey platforms.
Unfortunately, factors outside of your organization’s control can put a damper on employee engagement. Whether it’s fear of a potential recession that has companies tightening their belts across the globe, or an actual downturn, economic headwinds can easily dishearten employees. It’s hard to stay engaged when profits are down, clients are leaving, and even some of your team members are being let go.
But as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The best organizations are truly resilient, proving that their business model — and the people who make it run — can weather everything from pandemics to recessions. They step up key employee engagement practices to show team members that while outside circumstances might be changing, their commitment to the success and happiness of each individual worker is stronger than ever.
Here are five ways to boost employee engagement even when the economy is trying to drag it down.
1. Build a team that will stick together during good times and bad
Fostering a sense of community and belonging among your employees is one of the best strategies for keeping engagement high regardless of what comes your organization’s way. When team members feel genuinely connected to one another, they’ll do whatever they can to set each other up for success, eagerly looking for opportunities to collaborate or lighten a teammate’s load. Knowing that the other members of your organization have your back provides a reassuring sense of security and stability in uncertain times.
The road to a connected workforce begins with establishing relationships of trust between employees, both on a peer-to-peer level and with people leaders across the company. When leaders display empathy, working to develop a real understanding of their employees as people, the seeds of trust are planted. Help those seeds grow by empowering employees with the resources and coaching they need to succeed, while giving them additional responsibilities and autonomy to demonstrate confidence in their abilities. Finally, encourage transparent, honest communication at all levels of your company, so employees never feel that they’ve been misled about matters big or small.
There are also many team-building activities that provide opportunities for employees to get to know each other in a less professional setting. But as anyone who’s participated in a few of these exercises can attest, attempts at team-building can just as easily turn into unenjoyable, mandatory activities no one looks forward to. Ask some, if not all, of the team members who you want to participate about what they’d actually like to do. You don’t want to set up a round of intense trivia and games for a group who’d rather enjoy a coffee and easy-going conversation. Last but not least, always make clear that team-building activities are voluntary. No one likes being coerced into some “mandatory fun” when they’ve got important tasks to attend to or simply aren’t feeling it that day.
2. Provide employees with a purpose to rally around
Even the most satisfying jobs will eventually lose their luster if employees don’t understand or buy into the purpose behind what they’re doing. This becomes even more important when a recession comes around. With the cutbacks and general unpleasantness that often accompany tough economic times, a sense of meaning gives employees something to latch on to. It’s much easier to stay engaged and tune out the noise when you know that what you’re doing today actually matters, regardless of what might happen to you or your company tomorrow.
Giving employees a purpose starts with defining a set of company values that your organization will weave into every aspect of its operation, from individual interactions with customers to high level decisions that could transform the business. Then map out where your company is headed going forward and communicate that vision in a clear, compelling way. Finally, provide your employees with a real understanding of your organization’s mission with an action-based statement that lays out how your organization intends to impact both employees and customers.
3. Weave recognition into the fabric of your organizational culture
When’s the last time you heard “thank you” from someone at your work and really believed they meant it? If it was from someone who shows appreciation often, calls out the specific behavior they’re recognizing, and doesn’t wait long after that behavior to provide recognition, you probably felt the thanks were genuine. On the other hand, if it was a pro forma message from someone who hardly ever demonstrates any form of appreciation, you were likely much more skeptical.
This is why ramping up recognition when a recession or other difficult circumstances affect your company won’t have much of an impact. Whether in personal or business relationships, there are few things that come off as more insincere than providing thanks and flattery only when you need something. If your organization cranks up the recognition from 1 to 11 when tough times hit, employees will take notice. And they’ll likely give significant thought to updating their resumes when the economy recovers.
Instead, start your employee recognition program well before circumstances make it an absolute necessity with the help of a recognition and rewards platform every team member across the organization can use. It should let employees combine social and monetary recognition through an easy-to-use points-based rewards system, one that brings the entire company together to form a culture of recognition. Backing every instance of appreciation with something tangible is one of the simplest ways to boost the impact of recognition. And it should make tying recognition to specific values and behaviors your company wants to see more of a snap.
4. Ask for feedback on what’s holding engagement back — and act on it
Every team member values different aspects of their employment, and what engages one employee may fail to make an impact with another — or worse, even lead to increased disengagement. Some employees treasure a great work-life balance above everything else, while others are more than happy to work longer hours for the right incentives.
When determining how much effort and cash to put behind specific employment engagement initiatives — like talent development, wellness, and recognition programs — you need to understand which will motivate your workforce the most. And when engagement takes a hit, during a recession or at any other time, you need real time data that shows you how you can bring it back up.
Gathering employee feedback and determining the best ways to respond to it — before employees lose faith in your organization — is no longer something HR professionals and other people leaders need to wrestle with alone. Instead, find an employee engagement solution with modern feedback channels that won’t exhaust or frustrate your workforce, like focused pulse surveys and AI-driven HR chatbots. Together with reporting features and action plans that guide your managers as they collaboratively develop ways to address feedback with their team members, these platforms help ensure that it won’t be long before employees notice how things are changing for the better at your organization.
5. Demonstrate a real investment in your employees with professional development
Recognition and rewards aren’t the only way to make employees feel valued. Your organization needs to make long term investments in its workers’ success through a comprehensive talent development program. Prioritizing professional development can transform company culture and assist greatly with preventing disengagement during recessions. Employees will want to pay back the organization that has given them so many new opportunities to learn and advance their careers by doing everything they can to help it weather any economic downturn.
Talent development starts with identifying the current skills and interests of your workforce and evaluating how they match with your company’s goals. Your people leaders should then collaboratively set development with employees and empower them with the training and tools needed to meet them. Your organization can adopt modern solutions like a learning management system (LMS) while covering the cost of additional education. Internal training opportunities are also a key part of the equation, together with showing appreciation for employees who meet or exceed their professional development goals.
Start boosting employee engagement at your organization today
If there’s one thing to take away from this guide, it’s that employee engagement doesn’t develop overnight. To ensure your workforce has the resiliency to come out on the other side of a recession even stronger than when it entered it, your company needs to address key engagement drivers on a regular basis.
The Achievers Employee Experience Platform offers all the capabilities needed to comprehensively address engagement at your company and meet your employees’ unique needs. It integrates a recognition and rewards platform, Achievers Recognize — which powers over 17 million individual recognitions a year — with an employee engagement solution, Achievers Listen. When your workforce is empowered with the ability to show appreciation on a daily basis, no matter where they find themselves, and people leaders can quickly move from insight to action as they confront issues raised by employee feedback, your organization will be better prepared for whatever challenges come next.
If your company is ready to see how improved employee engagement can transform its outlook, try a free demo of the Achievers Experience Platform today.