The key to surviving economic uncertainty: Have your employee’s back

Economic uncertainty has become a household term over the past few years. The general public is suffering from a chronic case of whiplash, bouncing back and forth between conflicting opinions over the health of the economy and job market. Regardless of low unemployment rates or the increasing stock market index, over half of the US population still believes the country is in a recession.

Predictions, speculations, and theories aside, there’s a crippling side effect of this coined ‘uncertainty’, and that is, how is this impacting each individual in both their work and day-to-day lives? A great deal of this uncertainty stems from the understanding that much of the change that’s occurred is unpredictable. So when your employees show up to work each day, how do you receive and support them in such an environment to ensure you are getting their best?

First and foremost – it’s essential to recognise that the challenges our employees face are not always work-oriented – there’s a bigger picture here. Uncertainty about the world can lead to worries about job stability, which lead to worries about money, then family, the list goes on. And sure, a traditional and professional approach would be to separate these emotional responses from work responsibilities, but it would be naive to think this kind of existential dread does not and will not impact performance.

With that in mind, executives, managers, and leaders have a duty to cultivate an environment that fosters and leads to effective business outcomes. We are all striving for growth, and in order to do that in tumultuous times, we need to build trust with employees in demonstrating that we have their backs, working with them to develop strategies to manage burnout amongst their teams, all the while modelling the behaviour, attitude, and work ethic we wish to see from employees.

Employees are more intuitive than they’re often given credit for, and in order to fully buy-in to the business, they have to trust the story that leaders are telling. Is their authenticity in what leadership is communicating to the organisation? This isn’t a matter of giving employees whatever they need, or telling them what they want to hear – that’s a misconception – saying “I have your back” does not mean there’s an obligation to meet their every demand.

The employees need to believe that leadership is executing on a vision for an organisation to last into perpetuity. What is being done to develop these people in a fifty-year arc, so as to say, “This business will be here, we will take care of the strategy and execution, you just worry about achieving your individual metrics for success.” From there, these employees need follow through, which in practice translates to meaningful resources that help them make their role and performance sustainable.

Where employees lack support, it’s not uncommon for them to resist asking for help, whether it’s just a lack of a supportive culture, or they simply don’t know where to go. Unfortunately, burnout is a common result for an employee who doesn’t have an outlet for help. The reality is that a person can work an 80-hour week with a positive home life and never reach burnout, while others might work a 20-hour work week and feel extreme symptoms of burnout.

Every employee needs an outlet for help – that’s a non-negotiable for a sustainable business. The question is, how can leaders help their employees create something they feel proud of? Burnout dramatically diminishes when people take pride in their work. As their supportive outlet, leaders must set high expectations of their employees, and communicate those expectations while also saying, “I believe you are able to execute at this high level. You were hired for a reason, not solely to do a job, but because I believe you would add value to this organisation.”

The secret medicine here is to balance personal accountability and personal possibility within a framework of a dream – or in this case – a business. Burnout, anxiety, and mental health as they pertain to job security are in constant flux, and are better managed when leaders within the organisation are consistently modelling vulnerability, accountability, and effective management strategies.

A company’s culture naturally forms around whatever is prioritised. If mental health is a priority within the organisation, it must be at the forefront of every touchpoint. This could be as simple as opening a morning meeting by inviting individuals to share how they’re feeling or how they spent their weekend, and having a manager kick-start the conversation by providing anchors on how they are balancing work with personal life, and potentially even sharing struggles to let them know that it’s okay.

Give people the support they need, partner it with high expectations of brilliance, and trust that they will rise to the challenge. But it’s important not to lose sight of each employee’s status within the organisation. The stakes are obviously much higher for a CEO or founder than for an entry level employee, so be intentional when determining what appropriate contribution looks like with that in mind.

Keeping a business – and its people – afloat throughout periods of uncertainty is a massive challenge. There’s so much pressure on the leaders of an organisation to support their people, identify and heal burnout, and lead by example, but in doing so, you’re investing in the longevity of the business. At times it might be as simple as remembering that these are human beings and treating them with the fundamental respect that they deserve. If we’re not feeling our best, it’s nearly impossible to give our best, so by prioritising employee support and development, our ability to survive and succeed in uncertain times remains strong and steadfast.