How to help employees connect during periods of economic uncertainty

Meaningful workplace connection doesn’t just happen; it requires deliberate action and intentional culture building
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At workplaces today, a sense of belonging is more important than ever.

Tens of thousands of workers have been laid off in the past twelve months, which is taking a big bite out of morale and performance. Three-quarters of employees who survived a recent layoff reported that their productivity has declined, and employees who have not yet been affected by budget cuts are wondering if they’ll be next. Employees aren’t sure if they should hunker down and focus on their day-to-day responsibilities or look for new opportunities in case they lose their jobs.

Return-to-office mandates are also taking their toll. In recent months, businesses across the country have sent directives instructing employees to come back to the office and, in some cases, to prepare for termination if they do not comply. But more than half of employees reported in January 2023 that they’d prefer to keep working from home at least three days a week. They’ve been pushing back on mandates, resulting in a tug of war between company plans and employee happiness.

One of the most effective ways to keep morale up amidst all of this unpredictability and anxiety is to foster a sense of community at your company. It’s easier for employees to overcome a crisis when they come together and work as one. But meaningful workplace connection doesn’t just happen. It requires deliberate action and intentional culture building.

There has never been a more critical time to invest in your culture and help your employees connect. 

Here are five things you can do to promote a sense of belonging during times of economic uncertainty.

1. Use the opportunity to reinforce your values and culture

If you haven’t revisited your values recently, now could be a good time to do so. Ask for employee input, and find new ways to put those values in action. Articulate what your company’s values mean to you, and ask employees for stories that demonstrate how colleagues are using values to guide their actions. Share the anecdotes widely; these stories make a lasting impression on employees, who will feel seen and appreciated for their day-to-day contributions.

And speaking of appreciation, now isn’t the time to put recognition programs to the side. Especially in times of hardship, people want to celebrate victories and acknowledge colleagues. Use the first few minutes of a meeting to thank someone or give them a shout-out. The more specific the compliment, the better.

It’s also a critical time to reinforce your values and make sure your culture, policies, and procedures reflect those values. For instance, if you decide to add “giving back to our communities” to your company’s values, you could institute a Day of Giving Back in which employees volunteer their time to a cause of their choice.

Culture is built through everyday actions and behaviors. By investing in both the small things and bigger initiatives, people can feel a sense of value, belonging, and inclusivity within their workplace.

According to a study from BetterUp Labs, people who have friends at work engage 32% more, collaborate 20% more, and are 32% more innovative.

2. Make connection and community a core part of your organization’s culture

Almost half of all employees have said that a lack of social connection is a key obstacle to virtual work. But there are plenty of ways you can overcome this challenge and, in fact, you can often be more inclusive by prioritizing online connections as much as connections that happen in-person. Virtual interactions can even be much easier for employees who are introverted or who are juggling caretaking responsibilities, as they don’t require employees to be physically present to partake. Use a platform like Wisq to facilitate spontaneous socializing and meaningful sharing between colleagues.

According to a study from BetterUp Labs, people who have friends at work engage 32% more, collaborate 20% more, and are 32% more innovative. Companies also see higher profits when employees have a strong sense of community—and your company culture is what makes that community possible.

3. Keep providing opportunities for professional development and mentorship

Continue investing time and resources into professional development and mentoring, which have an outsized impact on morale in the workplace. And according to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, employees stay at their jobs twice as long when their company excels at internal mobility. 

A formal mentorship program can help marginalized groups in particular move up the corporate ladder. Mentorship increases the representation of Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women in management roles by up to 24%, and Hispanic and Asian-American men in management roles by up to 18%.

4. Prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion

As margins tighten, it might be tempting to cut back on measures that improve inclusivity and diversity. But DEI can help your company weather an economic downturn by making your business more resilient and your employees more productive. A recent study revealed that companies with consistently inclusive workplaces thrived before, during, and after the Great Recession by achieving returns of 14% or greater between 2007 and 2009. You can keep inclusion top of mind by empowering Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at your organization, which can provide mentorship, share solutions, and give employees a space to talk through important topics.

5. Encourage feedback and lead with transparency

Distrust and disinformation can run rampant in the wake of a big transition. Proactively work against that tendency by practicing open communication. If changes are in the works at your company, managers need to be transparent with their teams about what to expect. Extra care and kindness are essential, too, as employees could potentially feel trepidation about policies or a dip in morale after staffing cutbacks. Give employees space to talk about their feelings, and demonstrate to them that their leaders are listening. As former Chief Human Resources Officer at Genentech Cynthia Burks has said, “giving permission to be human” is part of how companies can create a culture of belonging.

A recent study revealed that companies with consistently inclusive workplaces thrived before, during, and after the Great Recession by achieving returns of 14% or greater between 2007 and 2009.

Employees are better positioned to weather a storm together

Your employees are facing a lot of pandemonium at the moment. They might be reeling from a recent round of layoffs, fretting over waves of news articles about a looming recession, or worrying that the remote work conditions on which they rely will be taken away.

While you might not be able to eliminate these stressors, you can make them easier to bear. Connection and belonging have been shown again and again to help employees more engaged, more satisfied, and more likely to stick around. Now is the time to create an inclusive culture and make it easier for your employees to find the sense of belonging they crave.

Crisis can either bring employees together, or it can tear them apart. Mindful choices can steer your company toward the former, and help you avoid the latter.

Wisq is an employee experience platform that helps companies build exceptional cultures. Learn more about how Wisq can help your company foster connection, belonging and community.

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