The Impact that Economic Uncertainty has on Your Team

December 8, 2022by Jacqueline Hershey0

We longed for the end of COVID, so we could return to “normal daily living.” Unfortunately, we cannot work under the premise that COVID is in our rear-view mirrors, and everything is going to be alright. It’s not! In 2022, we have endured bidding wars for homes, over 7% inflation, worker shortages, mass numbers of resignations, climbing interest rates, followed by a recent wave of layoffs.

This series of events consumes the headlines as well as the minds of your team members. One of my friends learned that a couple of people were terminated due to declining sales. She started to stress over the what-if scenarios. She explored other jobs, but discovered there were fewer openings than she had seen in the past. The unstable feeling engrossed her. She noticed her manager’s behavior changed. He had become more reclusive and closed. Her anxiety spiked and she recognized that her productivity declined.

We spoke with another team that works on-site with their colleagues. When they returned to the office, watercooler conversations resumed. There are sidebar conversations and communication within small groups swirling the ideas of what is going on with the business and wondering if a layoff is about to hit them. When their leader asked for questions during a meeting, one of the team members boldly raised the question on everyone’s mind: are we about to have a layoff? The leader dodged it completely. She could not speak to the topic and moved on. How did this impact the productivity thereafter? The buzz continued. The series of text messages and sidebar discussions about who might be on the line and when it might take place continued.

In addition to the headlines mentioned above, the emergence of quiet quitting started to dominate our news feeds. Brené Brown offered that “quiet quitting” may actually reveal a symptom of anxiety or depression, rather than an intentional decision to “cheat” the company in the Dare to Lead, What’s Happening at Work podcast1.

Leaders have noticed an increase in disengaged people at work and they are asking for solutions. As a basis of comparison, we have also seen fewer people participate in club events and association meetings. Even when the events were promoted and the program topics addressed a topic of high importance and common interest, participation has not returned to pre-COVID times. After the events conclude, the committee leaders ask, where is everyone? Why aren’t people coming to these events anymore? Since we see disengagement in work, association events, and clubs, I believe that it points to where Americans are right now. We have seen multiple indications that they are not fully recovered from the pandemic or are struggling to deal with the current economic challenges. Some people are frustrated that life has not gone back to normal.

What can leaders do to support their team members? First, recognize that some of the leaders in your organization may need tools. Americans have experienced less than 5% inflation for decades and some of your leaders have not experienced previous economic downturns.  They may be looking to you for reassurance, guidance, and a communication playbook, so when the hand is raised and the question is asked, they can respond with confidence.

Secondly, does your organization promote transparency, open communication, and leadership engagement? Brené Brown promoted the leadership trait vulnerability as a sign of strength. Showing vulnerability may mean you share what you know and can control, as well as what you don’t know and are working to solve. Checking in with the team members to ask how they are feeling, speaking openly, sharing coping mechanisms, resources, and the organization’s plans to move forward will go a long way.

This is an ideal time to increase interdepartmental collaboration. Share the current results, the market factors that have impacted results, and ask a wider group of team members for ideas on how to drive forward by increasing sales, reducing complexities, increasing efficiencies, or reducing costs. Your people may have the best ideas. Are they waiting to be asked and heard? Providing an opportunity to lean in is a natural solution to increasing engagement.

 

 

1  Brown, Brené (Host).2022. (October 10). https://brenebrown.com/podcast/whats-happening-at-work-part-2-of-2/ [Audio podcast episode]

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