10 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement in a Recession


Maintaining employee engagement amid a looming recession is yet another challenge Human Resources professionals must confront. Keeping employees productive and happy has been one of the greatest priorities of HR in the years since the pandemic began.

The Great Resignation, and now quiet quitting, are emphasize the importance of employee engagement and experience. People are less likely to leave if they feel part of the time, supported by managers, and contentment with their work. They need to feel valued and understand their role in the organization’s success. Accomplishing these tasks in relationship building can be complicated in a slow economy.

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Recently, HR Exchange Network had Terkel present a question about how to improve employee engagement during a recession. Being human is the theme of all the responses:  

Create a Team Mentality

“Leaders need to set the tone and explain their vision along with the goals for the new year. Being transparent encourages a sense of security and fuels an employee’s appetite to stay,” says Heather Smith, CPO and Senior Account Executive, Flimp Communications. “Managers should look back on what worked and what needs improvement and work together with their employees to fix it. This kind of engagement creates camaraderie and demonstrates you’re on a journey together.”

Quell Fears with Communication

“With talk of a possible recession on the rise, a simple but underutilized strategy for increasing employee engagement is to hold a quarterly town hall. (Just don’t forget to bring some donuts!) These gatherings improve communication, keep spirits high, and give your key executives the opportunity to speak to your entire organization,” says Jessica Arias, Director of People & Culture, OnPay Payroll Services. “By making it an open forum for staffers to ask questions, you’ll boost morale and keep your team at ease. Just remember to provide access for both your in-office teams and remote personnel.”

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Offer Flexibility

“In today’s competitive market, employers need to be creative in their approaches to employee engagement. One way to improve employee engagement in the coming months is to offer more flexible work arrangements,” says Travis Lindemoen, Managing Director, Nexus IT Group. “This could include things like working from home one day a week or offering reduced hours for parents who need to pick up their kids from school. By giving employees more flexibility, employers can show that they’re committed to making their employees’ lives easier. This type of commitment can go a long way toward improving employee engagement and retention rates.”

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Give the Gift of Purpose

“Ensure that you match employees to roles that utilize their strengths and align with their values. This way, their work becomes meaningful and fulfilling, making them engaged. Recession plays a key role in this strategy,” says Peter Hoopis, Owner and CEO, Peter Hoopis. “Surveys show that despite the looming recession, more than 30% of workers still plan to resign. This makes talent retention a priority in any organization. The cost of onboarding and training a new employee costs much more than retaining one, so we should make sure that employees are happy while being productive.”

Provide Mobility Internally

“Careers are the easiest thing on which HR can shine a spotlight. Highlight where the lateral moves are for your people,” says Charlie Southwell, Marketing Director, Let’s Talk Talent. “What could they do next? What other departments could benefit from their skillset? Give your key talent a reason to stay and the desire to develop with you rather than leave for your competition.”

INTERVIEW: How Can Learning and Development Survive Recession? 

Build Relationships

Build personal connections with your team. We find that in-person face-to-face interactions drive people to engage and care about one another. These moments that are collected over long periods of time build connections and engage employees to collaborate,” says Brianna Bitton, Co-Founder, O Positiv. “The familiarity and community that employees can build together can engage them to give their best to the team and business.”

Ask about Disengagement

“Get to the bottom of the causes of disengagement within your workforce. Hold regular one-on-one meetings with employees who seem to be less engaged than normal, and figure out what’s causing this issue,” says Mark McShane, Managing Director, Sheffield First Aid Courses. “Once you’ve identified the main causes, work toward resolving them quickly and effectively. Make sure you communicate your action plan to all the employees so that they know what’s going on. Focusing on resolving the root causes of employee disengagement will help you boost engagement over the coming months and also improve your retention of quality talent even as the risk of recession grows.”

INTERVIEW: How Does Transparency Relate to Employee Engagement? 

Spread the Holiday Cheer

“With the holidays coming fast, I plan to use all the festive things to my advantage when it comes to how I engage my employees. Pop-up contests are a fun way to get people talking about their favorite fall activities. Halloween costume contests, virtual team builders, volunteering during the season to pay it forward, and holiday party events are all great ways to both come together and engage your staff. I want to get to know my employees on a real level, what things they enjoy, what they do with their free time, and their favorite hobbies,” says Hope Pace, Sr. Manager, Recruitment and Employee Engagement, Advent Health Partners. “The recession will not influence my strategy on employee engagement. There are many creative and cost-effective ways to still keep employees engaged without spending a lot of money. Asking people authentic questions and truly caring about their answers will take you far. Getting to know the person behind the job is a very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to a successful employer-employee relationship.”

Provide a Psychologically Safe Workplace

“It’s important for employers to measure the impact of their offerings, rather than focus on quantity. The cost of disengagement (loss of productivity, absenteeism, turnover, etc.) far outweighs the cost of maintaining existing programs in the long run. Employees crave consistency, stability and transparency,” says Mary Damas, VP Recruiting & Employee Engagement, ServiceLink. “Those companies that provide a psychologically safe workplace foster a greater sense of mutual trust, respect, and recognition and are better positioned to stay the course during times of uncertainty.”

Be Empathetic

“I believe one way to improve employee engagement during a recession is to practice empathy in all aspects of the business,” says Clarice Magno, Employee Engagement Manager. “When we lead with our hearts, others will follow. We keep our employees engaged in the work that they do when they know that they are listened to, when we believe in them, and when we trust them. Empathy doesn’t cost any money but the return on investment is great.”

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov for Pexels

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