Table of Contents

The world economy is in a new volatile trajectory during recent times. Starting with bushfires in Australia, the downward spiral of crude oil prices to the COVID-19 outbreak, the year 2020 has had a rough start. The external environment will have reverberating effects on the profitability and economic stability of the organizations. Organizations need to reassure their employees with an engagement strategy to avoid any knee-jerk reactions. Employee engagement in times of crisis assumes critical importance.

Here are a few strategies to engage your employees better in times of change:

Continuous and transparent communication for employee engagement in times of crisis

Lack of clarity can create tremendous 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 the effect on their jobs as well. This news created a lot of anxiety, insecurity, and frustration among employees.

Meanwhile, the Indian counterpart had not gotten confirmation on restructuring. Thus the leaders in India refused to comment. This uncertainty resulted in massive chaos on the floor.

Employees stopped taking customer calls, and the issues escalated to the senior leadership. If the HR and leadership team had proactively reached out to employees, these disruptions could have been prevented. They could have acknowledged the uncertainty and reassured them with the options available if something were to happen.

Consistent internal communication using internal communication platform like Empuls helps with employee engagement in times of crisis. Such a platform 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 even to send out alerts, essential 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 more exceptional 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 strategic call helped develop a long-lasting loyalty for the organization, and the employees felt as if 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 in times of crisis.

Highly personalized interactions and policies – option to work from home, additional daycare 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.

The right time to invest in learning and development programs

Investments in Learning and Development pay off their best while markets are bearish. An HBR article talks of how 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.

Redundancy tremors

In the worst circumstance that a company has to restructure its employees, being empathetic is the best solution. Organizations offer liability waivers, extended medical insurance and lucrative severance packages to ensure that employees are well supported to deal with the uncertainty.

Organizations like GE and Adobe have tied up with outplacement vendors to help exit employees find jobs within a short period. This facility creates a positive experience for employees who have been let go. Even during times of distress such a gesture sends a positive signal to employees remaining within the organization.

It is also essential 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. Thus, merely remaining in the current organization to avoid being caught in another similar situation. In the process, organizations lose some of their key talents who would have stayed if handled appropriately.

It is important to communicate about the situation to the remaining employees and reinforce the strategy and future of the organization.

Wherein, a few organizations try to stay quiet and maintain confidentiality about such circumstances. But it is quixotic to believe that the news would remain confidential.

Layoffs that don’t break your company leaves it disabled, as quoted in a HBR article, with employee productivity and job satisfaction decreasing by 20% and 41% respectively post layoffs.

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 a loyalty bonus in December 2019 - amidst the outset of a global downturn. Running engagement surveys can give you more focus on the top issues that are affecting the employees and help craft the most effective benefit plan.

Strategic, on-time recognition

Recognition, even in the form of ‘thank-you’ notes, is the simplest way to improve employee morale. Even for companies who have all their employees working remotely due to COVID-19 related lockdowns, simple, and cost-effective methods can help HR leaders deliver better recognition. Identifying key areas of recognition that create maximum impact and motivate strong performers can go a long way in employee engagement in times of crisis.

These are the times to try non-monetary rewards using a reward and recognition platform like Empuls. These rewards could be given as reward points, value badges, and leaderboards for keeping remote employees engaged and reinstating the company’s core values.

Engaging employees is not easy. A little bit of empathy and compassion shown in meaningful but straightforward actions can create a long-lasting impact on the organization. Try them out!

Unlock the Biggest Secret of Engagement to Retain your Top Performers.
Learn how

Supriya Sharma LinkedIn

Supriya Sharma is an HRBP and contributor from Sydney, New South Wales. She has proven experience in aligning business with people priorities and inspiring teams to deliver superior results.