Engaging Your Staff During a Recession

In today’s challenging economic climate, retaining top talent and keeping employees committed and engaged is more crucial than ever. As jobs, programs and budgets are cut across industries, internal talent has emerged as many companies’ most bankable asset. Happy and productive employees will not only have a positive impact on an organization’s bottom line, but they must also play a central role in any viable corporate strategy for long-term growth.

Many businesses are taking aggressive steps to maintain their financial health amid the current recession. Many of these tactics, such as layoffs, hiring and wage freezes and limited opportunities for promotion, eat away at the morale of even the most loyal employees. While these cost-cutting measures are often necessary, businesses must take corresponding and deliberate steps to keep their workers motivated and engaged. You can do it by helping your employees achieve a healthy work-life balance while simultaneously supporting them on both sides of the equation.

At the office, keeping workers happy and productive comes down to four major factors: communication and leadership, learning and development, resource management, and rewards and recognition. It starts at the top with strong leadership and effective communication. Lead by example and be accessible. Employees must be engaged directly, so that they feel invested in the process and the company’s overall success. Secondly, it’s important to foster an environment of learning and development that caters to employees’ ambition. Workers will often look past the finances of a situation if they believe they are developing into more valuable and marketable talent.

Businesses can also keep their employees engaged by managing resources more creatively and strategically. Moving people between departments can help workers develop new skills at minimal cost. Maintaining a robust internship program can also share the burden of menial tasks while giving junior staff management experience. This type of active career management will keep employees engaged.

Ensuring appropriate reward and recognition for employees falls into both the work and life categories. At work, publicly acknowledge and thank employees who are doing a good job. Make their success public and keep senior leaders apprised of high-potential staff so that both sides feel like talent is being cultivated, noticed and appreciated. If your business can’t afford to reward employees financially right now, consider low-cost options like extra comp-days, team meals or even a few beers at the end of a meeting. These gestures will be viewed as signs that talent will be rewarded in more substantive ways down the road.

Even richly compensated workers won’t be happy if their work-life balance is out of whack. Paid time off, community involvement and a relaxed office culture go a long way towards keeping employees happy. That’s why, no matter what cost-cutting measures are bandied about right now, making changes to paid time off benefits should be a last resort. Employees are more stretched than ever; encourage them to get out and enjoy their time off. Tell staff to take advantage of every benefit they have and make sure that message is coming loud and clear from senior leadership.

Community involvement and office culture are two things that will help keep employees fulfilled during office hours. Allow and encourage your staff to host charitable efforts internally while also supporting their participation externally. When it comes to giving, remind them of corporate matching programs, even if they are somewhat diminished. Finally, go green, and take up other causes that make your employees proud.

The final piece of the puzzle is maintaining a relaxed office culture. Be consistent, but allow employees to take charge in the office and be themselves. Let your staff own and lead activities like birthday parties, peer-nominated awards, sports teams and team outings. Stifling workers’ personality will only hamper their engagement and productivity. Certainly, in trying times, these recommendations may only go so far. But, businesses that work hard to keep their employees motivated and engaged will reap the benefits now and long after the recession is over.

Nicole Sisson is VP/director for talent operations for DIGITAS in Chicago. DIGITAS was named an elite winner in the work-life balance category in the 2008 Chicago’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies To Work For awards program. Sisson can be reached at [email protected].