Learning & Development

Helping Employees Navigate in Times of Uncertainty

As we move into more uncertain economic times, collective anxieties often manifest in the workplace. An organizational response must be one of empathy and understanding, backed by robust policies that focus on employee engagement and well-being. This, in turn, will put firms in a better position to navigate the coming economic headwinds because they will face them with an engaged, mentally healthy, and productive workforce.

According to the recent Global Employee Survey by G-P, about four out of five U.S. workers say they are happy with their current job. However, two-thirds of respondents reported their quality of work decreases when they are unengaged. Consider this in conjunction with a  recent Gallup survey that finds only 21% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. The resulting decreases in productivity and employee retention cost the global economy an estimated $7.8 trillion a year. Therefore, not focusing on employee engagement and well-being is one of the costliest mistakes an organization can make in more robust economic climates, and during a downturn, it can be a potential disaster.

Organizations must consider the human behind the job and how normal daily stressors become amplified during globally disruptive periods. An effective program is one in which engagement and well-being policies complement each other and interact, forming a safe and empathic place where employees can decompress and feel free to talk about issues that are affecting them personally and professionally. Engagement policies influence how employees view their work; well-being policies affect how employees view their lives. Work and outside life invariability intersect, and how employees view one often influences how they view the other.

Engagement policies influence how employees view their work, well-being policies affect how employees view their lives. Work and outside life invariability intersect and how employees view one often influences how they view the other.

Here are ways organizations can build a robust employee engagement and well-being policy: 

Set Limits for Balance

Gallup reports that stress levels among employees rose for the third year in a row, and feelings of general worry are at their highest level in 10 years. Sometimes the simplest solution can have the greatest effect. Intentional time management, for example, allows employees to mentally recharge and evaluate their priorities, so have employees block a set amount of time each week as “focus time” to give them space to realign on projects or develop additional skills. Also encourage employees to take time off from work to rebalance and utilize well-being tools like the Calm app to promote mental clarity.

Take a Culture Inventory

An organization’s culture has a direct impact on employee engagement, so understanding the cultural evolution in economic uncertainty can provide a clear path forward. To do this, employers need to look at their retention rates, poll for employee happiness, and build a foundation of trust within their organizations.

This is important because an organization’s cultural norms have far-reaching effects. They determine what’s encouraged, accepted, discouraged, and rejected within a group, and a well-defined organizational culture can provide employees with a shared purpose and help a company thrive. Therefore, employers must create workplace cultures that prioritize employees’ health by promoting work/life balance, mental health, and the right to disconnect and recharge.

Workplace culture affects every aspect of an organization, including employee engagement, performance, happiness, and growth. Leading with culture may be among the most impactful strategies companies can use today to gain a sustained competitive advantage, according to Harvard Business Review.

Invest in Empathetic Leadership.

Increasingly, the top success factor for contemporary companies and leaders is empathy. This is a quality exemplified by people who show the will and patience required to listen and understand vulnerabilities experienced by employees and positively connect with them emotionally.

While empathy is frequently viewed as innate, it can also be learned. Any organization focused on effective employee engagement must give leaders the tools to learn and put these skills into practice. This can be achieved through effective listening strategies such as surveys and small group sessions to capture the voice of employees. Most importantly, empathic leadership creates a safe place for employees to reach out and seek help and advice when needed.

Engage Your Employees

Organizations need to establish an environment in which every team member feels connected, valued, and recognized. When practiced consistently and correctly, creating a better employee experience leads to a culture of direct feedback, transparency and a sense of psychological safety that translates into mental well-being at work and home. These organizational attributes contribute directly to employee engagement and productivity. The key is to build relationships with each individual employee and encourage them to actively participate. Employees who are treated with trust and respect will be more engaged with the organization and as a result, are more productive.

Invest in Robust Employee Communication on Purpose, Strategy, and Innovation

In times of uncertainty, employees often rely on their company rather than their government for information and inspiration. They look to their company to anchor them and provide a sense of stability. Therefore, employers need to focus more on sharing their concrete mission and strategy amid global uncertainties, as well as their strategies to respond to external crises, and help create a strong line of sight between the company’s strategy and its day-to-day work. Leadership teams should invest heavily in transparently communicating the strategy and goals with their teams and give them confidence in the future ahead. Additionally, they should include their employees more often in reimagining the company’s future, inspiring innovation and providing them with ownership of that innovation.

The Bottom Line

Stress is often a direct result of uncertainty. Although employee stress is at a 10-year high, organizations can take steps to ensure their employees are engaged and feel a sense of mental well-being. By responding with empathy to employee concerns and building policies and well-being benefit programs around engagement and work/life balance, organizations can protect themselves from economic fluctuations.

Richa Gupta is Chief Human Resource Officer at Globalization Partners.

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