We had a bit of a reprieve for a while there and we collectively took a deep breath. But, somewhere between the dreaded virus (*cough* Covid) crisis, record breaking inflation and an overseas war, the familiar phrase “recession” has reared its ugly head again.
According to a recent quarterly survey from McKinsey, the second half of 2022 is suffering from a somber economic outlook. In fact, 72% of U.S. employees are currently stressed about their finances and nearly 9 in 10 revealed they’re reassessing their financial situation.
Stress not only impacts your employees’ mental health but also their level of productivity. Employees dealing with financial stress lose, on average, 11.4 hours in productivity every week – which translates to approximately $4 billion in lost productivity weekly for U.S. employers.
It’s imperative for businesses to focus on strategic planning and risk management so they can be ready to adapt to any unexpected changes. Your employee communications should supplement and support those efforts.
Times of financial uncertainty can be difficult to navigate when you have all the information, but when everything is up in the air, it’s obviously even harder. Don’t leave your employees to struggle alone. Here’s how you can help:
Be transparent about what’s happening – what you know and even what you don’t. Not every employee is tuned into the news, so be honest as you help them navigate the “why’s” of your company’s next steps. Why are you tightening budgets? Why are you re-evaluating goals and priorities? Why are you cutting certain (perhaps underutilized) benefits?
Be upfront about the conversations that are happening at every level of the company. Your employees will appreciate the message more (even if it’s hard to hear) when they know you’re openly communicating every step of the way.
Be Clear About Expectations
Honesty offers clarity so remember to be clear about revised budgets and goals. Walk employees through exactly what to expect – which projects or initiatives may have to be paused, which may continue as planned and which may be cut altogether.
Employees want (need) to feel valued and that they are making a difference. Who doesn’t? Boost morale by sharing how their individual efforts contribute to the company’s overall strategic plan. Reinforce this message by reminding them of the part they play in your organization’s collective success. This will help instill/boost confidence in your employees and strengthen their trust in the company’s ability to effectively navigate through this economic uncertainty and any other challenges. Job security eases stress!
Additionally, ensure your employees understand that the situation is ever-changing. While there may be tough times ahead, the future isn’t set in stone. Reassure employees that you’re doing everything you can to minimize negative consequences for your company… and for them.
Use your employee communications to show that you care about your employees, their families and their future. Emphasize and appreciate the value of all that they offer – their unique skills and contributions. Be honest about current circumstances but steer clear of outright negativity.
Challenging times often create some of the biggest opportunities. Help employees work on their professional and personal goals. Be positive when speaking about their performance and encourage them to develop their skills. What do they want to achieve now, in the next five years and even further down the line? Help them create a performance plan that’s personalized, positive and empowering.
Be Consistent and Timely
As always, consistency is key. Even if you can’t communicate everything, consistently communicating will inspire trust in your employees.
From the CEO to the managers and the HR team, be sure they are armed with everything they need to answer questions, exhibit empathy and address employees’ concerns as soon as they arise.
Remember: if you adopt unclear messages coming from different sources, it’s easy for misinformation and rumors to spread like wildfire. You want to reinforce your honest, clear, positive and insightful messaging with clear educational materials and multi-channel communications.
Set up leadership training and lunch-and-learn sessions to help prepare your key communicators with answering tough questions and delivering the right message.
When it comes to financial wellness, employers have a wide range of benefits and tools they can use to empower their employees, especially during economic downturns. And, in today’s day and age, nearly 9 out of 10 employees have come to expect their employers to offer financial resources that can help.
Whatever financial wellness benefits or resources you have available, now is the time to promote them to your employees. Remind them where to go for information, whether it’s their 401(k) plan or other retirement plan, student loan relief, free access to financial planners or other financial education resources, and give explicit instructions on how to access these solutions-focused benefits.
More than anything, employees are seeking stability in their professional and personal lives. Between market volatility, rising inflation, the “Great Resignation” and fear of looming layoffs, one thing you can control is your employee communications.
From deploying communications to responding promptly when concerns arise, assure your employees that you’re doing everything in your power to support them and their well-being. Provide tools they can use to cope and assure that they are seen, heard and respected. Remind them about benefits that can offer support, like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and well-being resources.
At the end of the day, economic uncertainty affects employees at every level. Communicate with reassurance, confidence and a “we’re all in this together” approach.
Finally: Be human. Be real. Let your people know that it’s okay and encourage them to take some time for themselves. Financial uncertainty typically comes with a heavy dose of stress. Don’t add fuel to the fire, rather, reinforce the message that employees should focus on their physical and mental well-being and tap into the company-offered benefits and resources that will help them do so. From financial wellness support to career coaching, mental health benefits, employee assistance programs and tuition reimbursement, highlight the human side of your organization and all that it has to offer.
Organizational leadership that communicates with a true sense of humanity, transparency and consistency; that can be open and honest; that can listen and be available is one of the most effective ways to be a source of stability to your employees, especially during times of economic uncertainty.