Maintaining Employee Engagement in Uncertain Times

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From a hyper-growth, candidate-led market to the current macroeconomic headwinds (e.g., supply chain challenges, war in Ukraine, impact of interest rates going up), many companies have experienced major whiplash over the last quarter. Companies went from a record number of open roles (up 16.7% year-over-year according to Insight Partners data) to now re-examining hiring needs and looking to preserve cash. 

In times of uncertainty, employee engagement is paramount. To reduce attrition, boost morale, and maintain productivity, companies need to be thoughtful and intentional about the way they communicate with and engage their #1 asset – people.

So, how can companies weather this economic storm while ensuring they maintain employee engagement? 

Here are 3 key considerations:

1) Communicate early and often.

For many, the cloud of COVID-19 is still hovering over their families, health, and jobs. This combined with fears surrounding the current market has only heightened people’s uneasiness about their financial and professional wellbeing.

These fears are valid and should be addressed head on – even if you do not have all the answers right away. Be factual. Answer what’s real for your organization versus what is simply perception. Avoiding these tough conversations or waiting until you do have all the answers will only lead to greater stress and a potentially unruly rumor mill. 

And while the rising cost of capital is causing many ScaleUp leaders to be more thoughtful with how they spend cash, it isn’t necessarily translating to a reduction in headcount (which is often where employees will jump if left to their own imaginations). In fact, CNBC reported that layoffs and hiring slowdowns are limited within the tech sector, and Insight is seeing the same trend – with less than 5% of ScaleUps freezing hiring or reducing headcount. 

Overall, you should develop a plan to ensure you have a steady cadence of communications, as well as continue to keep a pulse on your employees, such as leveraging all-hands meetings to discuss the company’s future goals and one-on-ones to check in on your employees’ morale. 

2) Be honest and authentic. 

As mentioned, many people are feeling the weight of the past several years and what appears to be a constant negative news cycle. A lot can be said for showing vulnerability and being transparent about what is happening right now, how it’s impacting leaders, and what it potentially means for the organization. 

Being transparent helps to build trust at your organization – which can be particularly important during tough times. Trust helps sustain employee sentiment and makes them more inclined to believe in the vision of the organization and the purpose of their work.

But honesty doesn’t mean all conversations should be “doom and gloom.” Address the challenges and hardships, but find times to celebrate the wins and your shared future wherever possible. 

3) Look for ways to build connections – to your company and each other. 

People are often motivated at work because they believe in what they are doing. Get people excited about their work by emphasizing the purpose behind what they do (e.g., what they’re doing for customers, the company goals, and how their job links to these goals). At the end of the day, people want to make a real contribution and difference. By focusing on the purpose, you can build real affinity and connection to your company, which is crucial during uncertain times – and beyond. 

It is also vital to look for ways to build meaningful connections amongst your people. This doesn’t have to be a companywide initiative but can happen team to team, manager to manager, peer to peer. Connection is grounding and often gives employees a sense of stability and belonging. In fact, job satisfaction remains high when employees feel supported by each other.

Make connection building – to your mission, purpose, and people – a priority. 

If the past several years have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty that breeds fatigue and anxiety. While employers can’t control many of the external stress factors, they can help minimize anxieties surrounding their employees’ jobs whenever possible. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and remember: At the end of the day, your people are the heart of your business. Treat them as such.
 

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  • Janette Jankowski, Chief People Officer in Residence

    Janette joined Insight in 2022 as the Chief People Officer in Residence working in Insight Onsite’s Talent Center of Excellence where she helps our portfolio companies build world-class People organizations.  Previously she was the CPO for an Insight company, Achieve3000 where she was responsible for human resource strategy and planning…