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How to Manage Your Team During a Downturn


In the face of challenging economic times or a recession, maintaining employee and team morale at work can be a difficult task. But during a downturn, it’s more important than ever for business managers to exhibit effective leadership skills. Whether you oversee an entire division, department, or small team, there are helpful management practices you can apply in your role to be a good boss in a bad economy.

1. Be Transparent
Transparency sets the stage for clear and effective communication, which is vital in the workplace. It demonstrates a commitment to being open and honest, and helps to instill trust between management and employees. During a downturn, it’s important to keep your team abreast of any impending changes, issues, or challenges. By remaining transparent, expectations can be more clearly understood and met, relationships can be strengthened, and a healthy work culture can be nurtured. Ultimately—even outside of difficult economic times—transparency in the workplace can make for happier, more engaged employees and breed long-term success.

2. Encourage and Listen to Feedback
A key aspect of good communication is the ability to listen. In the midst of an economic downturn, it’s likely employees will have a lot of questions. As a business manager, it’s important that you encourage your team and co-workers to share their thoughts and feedback. In fact, a 2019 Salesforce study found that employees are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities when they feel heard.1 So, not only can you potentially resolve concerns expressed by employees, but you can also help to improve performance. You may not have all the answers right away, but the simple act of listening will show your team members that they are important and valued.

3. Recognize and Reward Contributions
Employee recognition is always important, but the difference it can make during stressful times is huge. Though many organizations have an employee recognition program in place that offers financial incentives and benefits, the reward system may temporarily change in the event of budget cuts. But there are still ways that management can recognize and reward progress and accomplishments in the workplace, including:

  • Saying “thank you” through a handwritten note or personalized email.
  • Publicly acknowledging and praising contributions during a meeting.
  • Hosting a celebratory team lunch.
  • Offering an extra vacation day.
  • Giving small tokens of appreciation, such as gift cards or tickets to local events.

4. Prioritize Engagement
When a company is experiencing a financial crisis, priorities tend to shift to help steer the course. One priority that should remain at the top of the list is maintaining employee engagement. As a business manager, it’s important to consistently check in with your team to ensure needs are being met and issues addressed. It’s also important to monitor performance and note any changes. Often, poor employee engagement leads to poor employee performance. If you notice any differences in work quality, attention to detail, or other performance-related criteria, it may be a sign that it’s time to refocus and engage your team. Management strategies for improving employee engagement include providing thoughtful feedback, scheduling one-on-one time, offering on-site training, and assigning meaningful work. It’s also important to emphasize work-life balance and promote health and wellness activities to allow your team to recharge as needed and deepen their engagement.

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