World economy is quite volatile today. Starting with bushfires in Australia, the downward spiral of crude oil prices to the COVID-19 outbreak, year 2020 has had a rough start. It is obvious that the external environment will have reverberating effects on the profitability and economic stability of the organizations. Organizations need to reassure their employees about their strategy and outlook to avoid any knee jerk reactions.
Here are a few strategies to engage your employees better in times of change:
Continuous and transparent communication
Lack of clarity can create huge unrest among employees.
I had an opportunity to observe an organization go through a loss of business in one of the verticals. This vertical had employees located in both the US and India. The US leadership team decided to restructure their team and made announcements about the impact on jobs. The news traveled to their employees at the Indian office and they started anticipating impact on their jobs as well. This created a lot of anxiety, insecurity and frustration among employees, however, their leadership in India hadn’t gotten a confirmation about the restructuring of their Indian business and refused to comment. This resulted in a huge chaos on the floor, employees stopped taking customer calls and until the issues were escalated to the senior leadership. All this could have been avoided, if the HR and leadership team had proactively reached out to employees, acknowledged the uncertainty and reassured them with the options available if something were to happen.
Consistent internal communication that provides authentic updates of the global economic downturn and its impact on the organization can build confidence and trust amongst the employees. This level of transparency gives them clear visibility into the future and inspires them to go the extra mile needed for the tough times.
HR leaders can encourage business leaders to even send out precautionary information, important statistics and updates on an on-going basis to show how the organization is well-prepared for an impact.
Low-cost, but earnest employee engagement
As per a study conducted by Gallup, the businesses with higher employee engagement have a greater ability to weather a volatile economy - generating better operating income, net income growth and earnings per share. Engaged employees of organizations tend to roll up their sleeves and prepare their companies to respond to market turmoil.
MindTree, when they had to go through a business slowdown in 2002 - 03, took the employees in confidence and collectively decided for all employees to take a pay cut instead of making employees redundant. This helped develop a long lasting loyalty for the organization and the employees felt as they were a part of the larger MindTree family.
In a book published by Korn Ferry, Talent Manifesto, it has been established that it takes 16% of the salary of a minimum wage employee to find, hire and train a replacement for the employee. Rigorous efforts to understand and attempt to address the concerns and fears of employees are key for enhancing employee engagement.
Highly personalized interactions and policies – option to work from home, additional day care discounts or emergency leave policies during the rise of an endemic, go a long way in engaging the employees. Adobe India proactively distributed sanitizers, masks and a list of do’s and don’ts to all employees to ensure their employees are safe.
Right time to invest in learning and development programs
Investments in Learning and Development pay off their best while markets are bearish. As per an article published by HBR, companies that display a delicate balance between cutting costs to survive today and invest in growth strategies like L&D to thrive in future, sail through a recession the smoothest.
Assuming that business may slow down, employees would have their bandwidth available to invest in opportunities to develop their skills and knowledge.
IT services companies like Infosys and MindTree are known to make use of employee time effectively. They usually use the downtime of their employees to build new skills among their employees and develop them for new emerging technologies in the market. Dynamic markets also push an organization to set themselves on a search for a sharp differentiation - and re-skilling programs can help open up new avenues for them.
In the worst circumstance that a company has to restructure their employees, being empathetic is the best solution. Organizations offer liability waivers, extended medical insurance and lucrative severance package to ensure that employee is well supported to deal with the uncertainty. Organizations like GE and Adobe have tied up with outplacement vendors to help exiting employees find jobs within a short period of time. This creates a positive experience for exiting employees even in the times of distress and also sends a positive signal to employees remaining within the organization.
It is also important to communicate transparently with the employees who continue with the organization. In my career as an HR professional, I have seen that employees who stay back face insecurity, distrust and fear about their jobs and hence sometimes move on from their current organization to avoid being caught in another similar situation. In the process, organizations lose some of their key talent who would have stayed if handled appropriately.
It is important to communicate about the situation to remaining employees and reinforce about the strategy and future of the organization. A few organizations try to stay quiet and maintain confidentiality about such situations but it is quixotic to believe that the news would remain confidential.
According to an article, Layoffs that don’t break your company published in HBR, the author mentions that employee productivity & satisfaction decreases by 20% and 41% respectively post lay - offs. When the company is cash strapped, non-cash benefits of the employees can send a strong signal of reassurance. Huawei made a headline move, paying its 194,000 employee staff base around the world a staggering amount as loyalty bonus in December 2019 - amidst the outset of global downturn.
Strategic, on-time recognition
Recognition even in the form of ‘thank-you’ notes is the simplest way to improve employee morale. When times are tough, budgets for rewards might not come in easy, but simple, cost-effective methods can help HR leaders deliver better. Identifying key areas of recognition that create maximum impact and motivate strong performers can go a long way in engaging employees.
These are the times to try non-monetary rewards such as reward points, value badges and leaderboards to engage employees, while reinstating company’s core values.
Engaging employees is not easy. A little bit of empathy and compassion shown in simple but meaningful actions can create a long lasting impact for the organization. Try them out!