The tight labor market over the past several years has led to a focus on the employee experience. There have been more job openings than unemployed people to fill them, and companies have had to go above and beyond to attract, engage, and retain talented people. Employee experience strategies have included learning and development opportunities, creative employee benefits, and thoughtful recognition programs. Many of these require an investment that more than pay for themselves through lower recruitment costs and higher productivity and profitability.

We now find ourselves in an economic downturn and many companies have been forced to use cost-containment strategies to weather the storm. Programs that contribute to a positive employee experience may be cut, and layoffs are becoming more widespread. People Ops professionals may be forced to operate with fewer resources, which brings many challenges.

But we will see a competitive talent landscape, and its associated challenges, again. Companies that put in the work now to maintain the employee experience will preserve or build their reputations as employers-of-choice, and reap the benefits later. Here are some things you can do to accomplish that:

Communicate, communicate, communicate

These are unprecedented times for everyone. Many employees are working from home for the first time, and may be wondering about the stability of their jobs. They’re wondering if, or when, wage freezes will be lifted and benefits reinstated. Parents are trying to juggle their work responsibilities with childcare. Furloughed employees are wondering what’s next.

The importance of communication at a time like this cannot be overstated. Encourage employees to ask questions, and share answers company-wide so the same information is disseminated to everyone. Explain why and how certain decisions were made. Things like pay reductions and benefit cuts are a lot easier to swallow when employees know they’re being done to reduce layoffs.

Adapt to remote work

Many aspects of your employee experience may depend on being physically near your employees. For instance, setting up a desk for your new hire, or participating in team building activities. 

If your employees are now working remotely, consider how you can adapt your employee experience to meet their new needs. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Build workflows for onboarding remote workers, and for offboarding them.
  • Hold virtual team building activities like a BYO happy hour or Pictionary. 
  • Implement the right tools for a remote workforce.
  • Offer a home office stipend so employees can purchase things like a monitor, chair, or noise-cancelling headphones.

Continue to offer employee recognition

Lack of face-to-face contact could inadvertently reduce the amount of feedback and recognition employees receive. But employee recognition is too important to simply let it go—especially right now. Employees working remotely, and possibly worried about their job stability, need affirmation now more than ever.

Make sure managers are scheduling regular one-on-ones with their reports, and encourage them to offer employee feedback and recognition during those meetings. Employees say the most memorable recognition comes most often from their manager. Implement additional ways to create a culture of feedback, like adding a Slack channel dedicated to recognizing peers, or doing shout-outs during all-hands meetings.

Check in with working parents

Many schools and daycare centers are closed for the foreseeable future, and working parents may be struggling to balance work and childcare responsibilities. They may feel like they have two full-time jobs, and that they’re failing at both. Further, a lack of guidance or inconsistent application of your policies between managers can create confusion.

Reach out to see how you might be able to better support working parents. The answer may be different for each person, so consider what you may be able to offer. Paid or unpaid leave, flexible hours, or even a pair of noise cancelling headphones can make a difference. Even the simple act of asking, and showing you care, can make a positive impact on their experience.  

Final thoughts

Cost-containment and the employee experience do not have to be mutually exclusive. Even if you’ve lost funding for some of your programs, you can still craft a thoughtful employee experience that will help you maintain or build your reputation as a great employer. This will feed back into your employer brand, helping you attract, engage, and retain the talent you need to meet business goals, long-term.


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How to Maintain the Employee Experience During an Economic Downturn