How HR can support businesses to thrive during an economic storm

Published 30/09/2022
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Businesses have had it tough over the last three years. The pandemic was followed by crisis after crisis, including rising inflation, soaring energy bills and the ongoing fallout from the war in Ukraine.
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Businesses have had it tough over the last three years. The pandemic was followed by crisis after crisis, including rising inflation, soaring energy bills and the ongoing fallout from the war in Ukraine. 

Many firms have already disappeared from the high street or online, and others continue to struggle as their costs of doing business rise. And, to confound matters in certain markets like the UK, there are also key skills shortages and record high levels of vacancies too. 

There are a range of measures a business can look to instil to help mitigate a turbulent environment, from cutting costs where possible, to potentially scaling back more risky expansion plans as well. 

However, it’s the people within who will help a business ride the waves of uncertainty. Employees and key stakeholders need to pull together to support the wider organisation, and push to help it achieve critical goals. 

So, in a conversation about how a business can thrive during an economic storm, it’s HR that has a greater role to play.  How can people leaders support employees to help a business thrive and survive? 

Focus on engagement 

High engagement is good, low engagement is bad and ‘sort of’ engaged is less than ideal. But in economically uncertain times when all key stakeholders need to pull together to help a business ride the storm, apathetic and disengaged employees could cause more financial harm than good. 

Highly engaged workers are motivated, they’re productive, and they want to help the organisation they belong to succeed - just what people leaders need right now.

But disengaged, and even ‘actively’ disengaged workers, will do the bare minimum to get by - whilst the latter could actually be harming the work output of others. 

The onus is on HR to boost engagement through a range of measures, from listening to employees’ concerns, to recognising and rewarding great work, and creating an environment (either in-office or online) that’s conducive to creating good outcomes. 

Stop the quiet quitters

A modern phenomenon, quiet quitting describes where an employee no longer goes above and beyond in their role, and instead does ‘just enough’ to get by. 

Similar to being disengaged, quiet quitters can become a drag on organisational resources by failing to contribute, and not pushing to support the wider business to achieve its short and medium-term goals (which, right now, could be survival). 

Quiet quitting and engagement are intrinsically linked. Employees who feel valued, appreciated and that their contributions are making a difference, are more likely to be engaged. Those who feel invisible to bosses, burnt out, underappreciated and that their work ultimately doesn’t matter, will be disengaged and potentially start identifying as a ‘quiet quitter’. 

Get great at internal comms

In times of economic distress, employees can also become distressed. Mental health during recessions, pandemics and wars can take a nosedive, but it’s notable that the greatest fear many employees had during the pandemic wasn't for their health, but for the security of their job. 

Workers suffering from increased stress or job uncertainty tend to become less productive, will see the quality of their work decline, and could start looking for more security elsewhere. It’s imperative, therefore, that HR plays its part to mitigate these issues. 

The most cost-effective and direct solution for HR is to get really good at internal communications. By being open and honest with employees about the struggles a business is facing, and most importantly what it plans to do about them, gives employees a greater sense of security in their role. They’ll know that times are tough, but being informed from senior management how the organisation is planning to ride out the choppy economic waters creates a greater sense of peace. 

Additionally, great internal comms can bring teams together and create a stronger alignment between personal and business goals, support engagement and boost collective productivity. 

There are different types of internal communication to utilise too, from company-wide email updates and blogs, to all-hands meets and video announcements too. 

Assess recruitment processes  

There are huge gaps in the jobs market right now, and it’s affecting how businesses can plan for the immediate future. 

In the UK, unemployment is at record lows, but there are also a record number of open vacancies - especially in key industries such as construction, healthcare and hospitality. 

For HR, this presents an opportunity to instantly support the wider business by reviewing recruitment processes. How long does the time-to-hire take? Where along the recruitment journey are candidates falling off? And why are you losing great candidates to other job offers? 

Assess what it is you could be doing better, and tap into what it is the candidates you want really want from you, from pay and contracts to perks and flexibility. 

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About The Author

Arthur Wilson is a marketing consultant and writer across digital, business strategy and HR. He is a regular contributor to The Entrepreneur and small business advisor for Enterprise Nation.

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